Parent education forum scrapped at the last minute
Superintendent Dr. Bryan Luizzi started his Start Times Update at the April 22nd BOE meeting (watch here) by telling us that, unfortunately, the speaker they had tried to get (at the last minute) for their April educational event is not available due to his upcoming book tour.
Nevertheless, Dr. Luizzi and his team have decided to go ahead and send out a new survey to students, teachers, and the community at large about school start time changes without first educating them as to why we are doing this.
In the absence of a district-sponsored education forum, the purpose of this newsletter is to reach as many parents, students, and community members as possible so that they know the facts before they receive the survey. Please pass this on your friends and neighbors!
Bus options explained
The following are the options that will be presented in the survey. We would like to explain them in case they are not explained in the survey.
To understand why these are the top options, it is important to recognize the constraints around scheduling school start and end times. Right now we have 3 tiers of busing and need 45 minutes to complete each tier and get to the next school. The time it takes to complete each tier of a bus run is really what drives our start and dismissal times. If we want to stay at 3 tiers of busing and not dismiss any later than today's latest dismissal of 3:35, then one tier needs to start at 7:30. The easiest and least expensive option is to swap the high school start time (7:30) with the South/5/6 start time (8:20). The problem is that hardly anyone wants their child to start at 7:30, regardless of age! If you don't want anyone to start at 7:30 and you don't want anyone to dismiss later than 3:35, then you have to add buses and move to a 2-tier system, which is the most expensive solution. With those constraints in mind, here is a summary of the current options.
Note: The public did not get a copy of the survey - we only heard the Board discuss it, so we are basing the details in the options below on their discussion and prior presentations. Also, the survey is being revised so there may still be some changes.
Option 1: Current schedule
7:30 - 2:05 / High School and 7th-8th grades
8:20 - 2:55 / South School and 5th-6th grades
9:05 - 3:35 / East and West schools
This is the current schedule. We already know that the status quo is unacceptable and does harm to our vulnerable adolescents and teens (see our educational component below). We hope this option is only here to show the baseline, and is not still a viable option.
Option 2: Two tier schedule
8:15 - 2:50 / High School, 7th-8th grades, and South
9:10 - 3:40 / 5th-6th grades, East and West
This is a 2-tier option and the most costly because you would need many more buses. Some board members wanted to take this option out of the survey because they didn't feel that they could justify to the Board of Finance spending an extra million dollars a year to let kids get the medically recommended hours of sleep. This was shocking and eye-opening to us as we were watching their conversation unfold. The BOE budget this year was about $93 million, just to put it into perspective. Yes, they had to fight hard for that budget and it would be difficult to add another million dollars per year. But if that is the best option for all students to feel healthy and at their best, why wouldn't they at least try and find a way to make that work? This option falls short of the medical recommendation that high school start no earlier than 8:30. We'd love to see this pushed back even 5 minutes.
Option 3: Flip 1st and 2nd tiers
7:30 - 2:05 / South School and 5th-6th grades
8:20 - 2:55 / High School and 7th-8th grades
9:05 - 3:35 / East and West schools
This option is the same as the current schedule, just flipping the first and second tier. It would involve some cost because more buses would be needed for the elementary students so that they aren't walking to school in the dark. The cost would be around $250k annually. This is the simplest option and the least expensive. However, it is not an option we support because we know it will be met with a lot of resistance from current South School parents, which could derail the entire effort.
Option 4: Elementary all together, Saxe all together, later first tier start
7:40 - 2:15 / Elementary schools
8:25 - 3:00 / High School
9:05 - 3:35 / Saxe
This option gets all elementary schools on the same schedule and all of Saxe on the same schedule, something that teachers asked for. The cost would be around $350k per year. Saxe has to go at the end because their bus route would have to be slightly tiered, with kids living further away from school going in the first run, and kids closer to school in the second run. We have pushed for them to shift these times back even more, by 5 or 10 minutes, to get the elementary schools as close to 8:00 as possible. With that tweak of pushing back 5 to 10 minutes, so that elementary schools start no earlier than 7:45, this is our preferred option. We hope to see that revised version in the survey! There are a lot of benefits to this option, aside from getting our adolescents more sleep, including:
- Elementary schools start earlier and dismiss earlier, which teachers have said is preferred over the current 3:35 dismissal. The best time for elementary students to learn is early in the morning. By 3:35, they are worn out.
- All elementary on one tier, which teachers have been asking for and which solves some problems with coordinating after school activities.
- Middle schools are on the last tier which works because their activities usually start the latest and it is beneficial for middle schoolers to have less unsupervised time in the afternoon.
Option 5: No school starting before 8am
8:00 - 2:35 / High School
8:45 - 3:20 / Elementary schools
9:30 - 4:00 / Saxe
This option was created in response to requests by parents that no school start before 8am. The cost would be about $200k annually. Again, the Board wanted to take this off the table immediately because they felt that a 4pm dismissal would be bad for teacher commutes. This option is not acceptable as it is because the high school starts at 8am, when the medical community says that high school should start no earlier than 8:30. We support this option if the first two tiers are flipped. It would be the same as option 4 but with everything pushed back 20 minutes. The tradeoffs with this healthy option are:
- If the high school is from 8:45 - 3:20, there may be more logistical problems with after school activities than if the high school is dismissed by 3pm. (But we have seen many, many high schools around the country dismiss this late and adjust quickly to the new normal.)
- The 4pm dismissal for Saxe is 25 minutes later than the current latest dismissal in New Canaan (East and West dismiss at 3:35). This could increase afternoon teacher commute times.
A sobering revelation
Much of the Board’s discussion centered around the viability of a few of the schedule options. While one board member consistently focused on the health of students when discussing which bell time options were and were not viable, other Board members made quick decisions to exclude two options without further thought about how well those options meet student needs.
When one Board member argued that the 2-tier bus option shouldn't even be considered because of the cost, it was a revelation that our teens’ chronic sleep deprivation has never been a high priority for many of these Board members. They do not seem to properly weigh the seriousness of the problem and aren't willing to fight for change if the change requires trade offs. To them, the budget pressure they feel from our Board of Finance is far greater than any pressure they feel to act on this overwhelming medical consensus.
And given how long they have been willing to delay this process, after shrugging off last year's shocking survey that showed that 40% of our teens sleep 6 or fewer hours a night, they certainly aren’t feeling pressure over their obligation to solve this issue. If it is as low a priority as it seems, it is disheartening that these nine BOE members are the only people who have the power to fix this. We hope at least half of them will champion the cause when they make their decision in June.
Why are we even doing this? The science is astonishing
Even if you think you know about the science, please keeping reading and share this with everyone. You can copy and paste this link and text or email your friends and neighbors. The more people who understand the science behind later start, the better for our community. Especially with this survey coming up.
It's Biology, Really
Teenagers are often thought of as being night owls, staying up late and having a hard time waking up in the morning. Sleep experts tell us, however, that teens are not just lazy, their biological clock has shifted and they can't fall asleep as early as they used to. Teens release melatonin more than 2 hours later than adults. Their natural sleep cycle is from around 11pm to 8am. Not only are they getting hours less sleep than they need, they are missing out on their most important REM sleep, which comes in the morning between 6-8am. This sleep shift starts around age 12 and can last into their early 20s.
Why Sleep Matters
When we wake our teen at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning for school, we are depriving them of those crucial early morning REM hours. It would be like waking an adult up every day at 4am. They feel like zombies, going through the motions of their day. During REM sleep, the brain consolidates and practices what the student has learned during the day, forms long-term memories, and connects and prunes synapses in ways that improve organization, logical reasoning, creativity, and complex thought. REM sleep is also when they dream. By waking teens up hours before their brain is ready, we are robbing them of their dreams.
Well Rested Teens are Good for the Community
Sleep deprived teenagers are less creative, pay less attention to detail, have a harder time concentrating, have a harder time making decisions, are more irritable and emotionally unstable, and are more likely to use stimulants and alcohol. Sleepy teens are more likely to get into a car accident, more likely to injure themselves during sports as their reaction time is impaired, and more likely to suffer from depression. Even their immune systems are impaired by a lack of sleep - they are sick more often and vaccines can be half as effective. We should all want well-rested teenagers living in our community. They are safer, smarter, healthier, and happier when they get a good night’s sleep.
Support Healthy School Hours
Despite statements from the AAP, the AMA, and the CDC that 7th-12th graders need at least 9 hours of sleep and that school should not start before 8:30am, New Canaan has been slow to make the change, ignoring the data year after year. Please visit our website to learn more about where we are in the process, or to sign our petition requesting that the New Canaan BoE follow the advice of all major medical associations and change school start times for grades 7-12 to 8:30am or later, and that no child start earlier than 8am.