School start times: Go away, delays!

Angry at the pace of action, advocates for revising Ridgefield’s school start times — beginning the high school day roughly an hour later than its current 7:25 start — vented their frustration to the Board of Education last week.

“This could have been completed in this school year, but it’s delay, delay, study, form a group,” said Meredith Harris.

“This is the health and well-being and education of our children,” she said. “Are you waiting for a child to wrap themselves around a tree? Do you want our high school children to look for Adderall?”

The possibility that a subcommittee may not have a report and recommendation on school start times ready for the May 22 school board meeting, as previously planned, troubled four parents who spoke about start times April 24.

A fifth speaker raised the issue of younger kids who get out of school late in the day — three of the six elementary schools start at 9:10 and end their day at 4, and then the kids ride buses home.

“Our children deserve to learn at the most optimal time,” said Sandy Griffith, a Veterans Park parent who is starting a petition for an earlier school day there.

Currently, the high school day goes from 7:25 to 2:15 — and some bus routes for the school start at about 6:30, according to school board Chairwoman Frances Walton. The two middle schools go from 8 to 2:50. Branchville, Ridgebury and Scotland elementary schools go from 8:35 to 3:25. And Veterans Park, Farmingville and Barlow Mountain elementary schools go from 9:10 to 4.

Splitting the elementary schools accommodates a four-tier bus system, which was adopted in 2009 during a budget crunch — saving $436,000 that year. It’s been kept in place since.

Autumn timeline

Gigi Christel was troubled by the possibility that a report and recommendation on school start times expected from a board subcommittee in late May could be put off until next fall.

“That’s what we were told: Focus groups lead to a survey, lead to a decision,” she said. “Now we’re being told, ‘Public education in September, survey in October …’

“It was just so disappointing. Please put together a proper timeline on this and follow it,” she said.

Edulog

Changing start times would involve reorganizing the schools’ transportation system, and the consulting firm Edulog is doing a $20,000 study that’s expected to determine whether money could be saved by reorganizing bus routes or allowing longer bus runs.

The study will also look at “the feasibility of changing from a four-tier bus routing plan to a three-tier plan” — with the plan tested having school start times of 7:30, 8:15 and 9, with the high school on the 8:15 start.

Christel thought the results should go directly into its survey of parents.

“Put together a survey that says, ‘These are the options Edulog came up with, this is what it will cost,’” she said.

Not so simple

Discussing the parents’ concern after the meeting, Walton said that surveying parents isn’t as simple as it may seem.

“A survey takes time to build, it needs to be evaluated, the subcommittee should review it,” Walton said. “And then we have to check how it will be distributed and the data collected and analyzed.

“There were complaints that the last survey in 2013 was biased, and we want to avoid that,” she said. “A key component to a successful survey process will be education of the issues so that parents are informed before they take the survey.”

Clearing the data

Parents advocating for changes to start times don’t see the need for all the time-consuming steps.

“The science is clear,” said Colleen Broderick. “We know this is in the best interests of the children. … Listen to the science,” she said. “Listen to the doctors and follow their recommendations.”

The report from Edulog on the bus system was originally due in April, but has been delayed.

Superintendent of Schools Karen Baldwin told the board that the Edulog report is “focused on delivering May 8” — the full board’s next meeting — although it isn’t a sure thing.

“Edulog has completed Phase I, data assessment,” Baldwin told the board.

“Our data was not clear,” she added. “We have to spend time clearing that data.”

The board’s strategic planning subcommittee was scheduled to meet again Wednesday, May 3, leading up to the expected May 22 discussion of start times.