School start times: Survey results receive special meeting Monday
The early bird may get the worm, but some Ridgefield parents are hoping that high schoolers will get an extra hour of sleep next year.
Others want to know more: Will the impact of a transportation scheduling change be too much on the rest of the district’s student and parent population — its kindergartners, elementary students and middle schoolers? Could it really save the town money?
The Board of Education will get closer to answering those questions at a special meeting Monday, Oct. 16, where results of a survey on school start times are expected to be revealed.
The meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the auditorium of East Ridge Middle School, is open to the public and will include comments from the crowd.
Parents, staff and students at the eighth grade or high school level received the survey online on Sept. 27 and were given a completion date of Monday, Oct. 9.
Superintendent Karen Baldwin called the survey an “important part of the decision making process” on whether her administration will go forward with starting Ridgefield High School at 8:30 — 65 minutes later than its current 7:25 start time.
“The Board of Education and I are committed to gathering as much information on the proposed changes to school start time and learning the perspectives of parents, staff and students,” Baldwin said.
The board is considering the schedule change in response to a significant body of research that suggests adolescents gain more beneficial sleep with a later school start time.
Proponents say that’s because of a natural shift in sleep schedules teens experience, which means they tend to fall asleep and wake up later than children or adults.
Over the course of several months, several parents have repeatedly told the board that a later start time is more in line with the district’s revised mission statement: policies that should “promote wellness of body and mind.”
In return, the board has whittled down a list of possible scenarios to three options:
- Option 1: East Ridge and Scotts Ridge middle schools start at 7:55 and get out at 2:45. High school starts at 8:30. The elementary schools would start last and retain the current four-tier bus model, with students from Branchville, Ridgebury and Scotland starting the day 25 minutes before students at Barlow Mountain, Farmingville, and Veterans Park. Savings: $90,000.
- Option 2: Branchville, Barlow Mountain, and Ridgebury start at 7:35, with Farmingville, Scotland, and Veterans Park starting at 8. Students at Ridgefield High School wouldn’t start until 8:35, and middle schoolers would begin their day last, at 9:10 — getting out of school at 4 p.m. Savings: $180,000. Four-tier bus system.
- “Cadillac” option: All schools start at 8 or later. Middle schools start first, then high school at 8:25. Branchville, Ridgebury and Scotland start the day at 8:40 — 20 minutes before students at Barlow Mountain, Farmingville, and Veterans Park. Cost: $1,530,000.
“It’s a lot of money,” said Vice Chair James Keidel about Cadillac option.
Opponents believe that changing the high school start time will put an unfair strain on elementary and middle school students and families, forcing them to adjust schedules and make arrangements for child care.
“My wife and I both work outside of the home,” said Eric Bran at the board’s Sept. 25 meeting.
Bran told the board that he and his wife are fortunate enough to have staggered schedules.
“I can put my daughter on the bus, and my wife can meet her when she gets off the bus,” he said.
If that situation were to change under proposed start time scenarios, Bran said, it would significantly impact his family’s life.
“The decision made should not be made on the basis of transportation,” he said.
Start time scenarios
All the options on the table — including not making any changes to the current transportation schedule — keep the district’s four-tier bus system in place.
Board Chairwoman Fran Walton said that condensing the bus runs down to a three-tier schedule would have cost the district “significantly more” than the “Cadillac” option that went out to survey takers.
The board hopes to render a final decision on school start times by the end of October. If implemented, the change would go into effect next fall.