Board argues over school start time
Tensions ran high at a Board of Education meeting Monday night, Sept. 11, as members of the board differed over how to deal with the costs of various busing scenarios that would move Ridgefield High’s start time past 8 a.m. — a change some in the community feel is vital.
Letting RHS students hit the snooze button for an extra hour next year could cost some $900,000 more in busing costs, or it could reduce that expense by as much as $180,000.
Those were two of the four scenarios that the Start Time Steering Committee presented to the Board of Education Monday night.
But while most board members voiced their support for the health benefits of a later start time, the costs to the district — in disruption to parents and students, as well as financial measures — made some hesitant about the process.
In particular, board members argued over the removal of a “Cadillac plan” from the list of options, a scenario which would have been costly (an additional $1.4 million spent on busing) to implement, but which some members felt should be on the table for discussion. “I think calling it a Cadillac option sort of biases it,” said Board member Doug Silver. He asked why that plan should not be called “what’s best for kids.”
But that characterization was contested by Jon Costa, who presented the busing scenarios for the Steering Committee to the board. Costa argued that because all of the scenarios he presented moved the high school start time back, they were all a gain for the community.
The one recommendation he didn’t feel the committee could make?
“If you consider the science, status quo is never really an option,” Costa said, about keeping start times as they are. “There’s no scenario where the status quo works.”
The board plans to make a decision on later start times by the end of October, presumably at the meeting Monday, Oct. 23, all to allow RHS students to start the day later — to reap the benefits educators, teachers and medical professionals claim teens gain from getting enough sleep.
Ridgefield High School currently starts at 7:25 a.m., and ends at 2:15 p.m.
East Ridge and Scott’s Ridge middle schools both start at 8 a.m., and end at 2:50 p.m.
Branchville, Ridgebury and Scotland elementary schools all start at 8:35 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m.
Barlow Mountain, Farmingville, and Veteran’s Park elementary schools have the latest day, starting at 9:10 a.m., and ending at 4 p.m.
In all of the scenarios, the length of the school day remains the same. St. Mary’s School’s start times also remain unchanged.
The four scenarios are as follows:
Option 1C: RHS would move to a later start time of 8:30 a.m., while middle schools would move to a 7:55 a.m. start time. Elementary school start times would be pushed forward to 8:50 and 9:15 a.m. The earliest pickup would be for middle school students at 7:04 a.m., while the latest drop-off would be for elementary students at 4:55 p.m. The district would need one less bus in its fleet.
Savings: $90,000 per year.
Option 1E: RHS would move to a later start time of 8:25 a.m., while middle schools would be pushed back to 8:50 a.m. Elementary schools would start earlier, at 7:40 and 8 a.m. The earliest pickup would be for elementary students at 7, the latest drop-off for middle school students at 4:30 p.m. The district would need 10 extra buses.
Additional cost: $900,000 per year
Option 2A: RHS would move to an opening of 8:25 a.m., middle schools would be pushed back to 8:55 and 9 a.m. start times. Elementary students would start earlier at 7:35, 8, and 8:05 a.m.
The earliest pick up would be for elementary students at 6:55 a.m., the latest drop-off for middle school students at 4:40 p.m. The district would need six more buses.
Additional cost: $540,000 per year
Option 2A: RHS would move to a later start time of 8:35 a.m., while middle school would also move back to a 9:10 a.m. start time. Elementary schools would start earlier at 7:35, 8, and 8:05 a.m. The earliest pick up would be for elementary students at 6:55 a.m., the latest drop-off for middle school students at 4:50 p.m. The district would need two fewer buses than it currently uses.
Savings: $180,000 per year
Later start times
The notion of starting RHS later has gained traction in the last year, in part due to the influence of Start School Later, a national non-profit group that advocates for later start times.
“Shifts in the sleep-wake cycle at puberty mean that most adolescents get their best sleep between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.” says the organization’s website.
The board will put out a survey to the public, regarding a later start time at RHS, before it makes a final decision.
Board members also had concern over the short timeframe they have to make a decision. “Everyone who is voting on this issue needs to understand it,” said board member Sharon D’Orso. She said the board’s attempt to keep presentations to under 20 minutes would not allow the board members to make a fully informed decision. Her comments drew rebuke from Vice Chairman James Keidel, who argued the board needed to stick to its time limits.
Keidel later told board members in a separate discussion that leaving start times at their “status quo” is “always an option.”
The weight of the decision was expressed by all.
“This is the body that owns this decision,” said Chairman Fran Walton. She added that she thought it was “striking that a 10-minute change can have such an increase in cost.”
“I hope the survey gives us more information as to what the community values,” she said.
The board will host Dr. Jennifer Papa Kannan, a physician at UCONN with a background in sleep medicine, at a community information event on the importance of adolescent sleep on Monday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. at East Ridge Middle School.