Parents oppose later start times for elementary school students

A petition against one of the district’s proposed options to change school start times has received more than 200 signatures in less than 24 hours.

“The Board of Education has recommended that Barlow, Farmingville and Veterans Park Elementary begin school at 9:20 a.m., 9:45 or 10:15 as part of its strategic plan recommendations,” said petitioner Elza Libhart. “This is anathema to what is in the best interests of our children.”

In November, more than 800 people signed a different petition asking the board to push back high school start times. Libhart, who is in favor of later high school start times, said her goal is to "unify all of our efforts to implement age appropriate, recommended start times for students K-12 throughout Ridgefield."

"This is a serious town-wide issue that must be resolved for the health and academic success of our children as it has been overlooked for far too long," she said.

The board has been discussing plans that would allow the district to retain its current four-tier bus system, while starting the high school at 8 a.m. — or later at 8:30 a.m.

“This decision only supports the Board’s need to balance their budget and provides zero benefit to our children and in fact, is detrimental to their academic success and well-being,” said Libhart.

“It’s unimaginable that the board is even proposing to make an unworkable system even worse. They are not taking into account what is best for our children.”

At a Jan. 9 meeting, board members Sharon D’Orso and Doug Silver said they didn’t like the impact a later school dismissal would have on students — particularly those at the elementary level.

D’Orso argued that students need enough time for extracurricular activities and homework, and said a later dismissal time might put this in jeopardy.

Chairman Fran Walton told The Press Wednesday that no decisions have been made yet on school start times.

“I think the board discussed it, and said that those times weren’t acceptable to us,” she said.

In her petition, Libhart also said that the board has failed to make good on its promise when it moved elementary school start times in 2009.

“In an effort to reduce busing costs the Board of Education moved Barlow, Farmingville and Veterans Park Elementary schools to a 9:10 a.m. start time for what was supposed to be a three year span, after which  the three schools were to rotate with the other elementary schools and move to an earlier start time rotating every three years,” she wrote.

“It’s now eight years later and the board has failed to implement this plan leaving BMES, FES and VPES elementary schools to shoulder this burden alone.”

Walton, who wasn’t on the board in 2009, said she believed “the administration said it would consider whether they could change which three schools were moved back.”

“The problem was that it wasn’t possible to do that because of the distance, the three that are earlier are further out and the three with the later start time are closer to the center.”