Educators caution changing school start times in Westport
WESTPORT — A proposal to start all Westport schools 30 minutes later drew concern from elementary educators of the impact on both staff and younger students.
“Moving elementary school times to start and specifically end later in the day in order to accommodate the needs of high school students would have many negative impacts on the elementary cohort of students,” Amanda Moitoso, a Greens Farms Elementary teacher, said at a Board of Education meeting on Monday.
SIGN UP here to get daily Westport News and alerts on breaking news
“There’s data about the attention span, and of young students being best during early morning hours,” Moitoso said, adding Westport students already experience a long day.
The current proposal would see Staples High School run from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.; Saugatuck Elementary School and middle schools from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.; and Coleytown, Greens Farms, Kings Highway, and Long Lots elementary schools from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Moitoso noted student engagement typically tanks after 2 p.m.
“From there, it’s hoping and trying to stay engaged as possible so (students) can stay as engaged as possible to finish out the day,” she said.
Transportation could be another hurdle. With an already crowded pickup line, Moitoso said some buses arrive late. Pushing the daily schedules 30 minutes later could lead to students arriving home as late as 4:45 p.m., she said.
“While we would be avoiding the darkness of the morning as people have argued for, our youngest students would definitely be stepping off of the bus in such darkness by the end of the day,” Moitoso said.
Deborah Goldenberg, a Westport educator, asked the BOE to not help one group of students to the detriment of another.
“We as a town value deep thinkers and time for reflection of ideas,” she said. “In order for them to get the most of what we say we value as a town, we need to give (students) the best chance by having them in school during their optimum energy and focus hours.”
She added elementary school teachers’ thoughts and concerns should be heard if decisions that can affect the elementary schools are on the table.
“Our hearts are in it for our kids, and our voices are important to be heard and considered on their behalf,” Goldenberg said.
Parents were split on the proposal, with some saying the later start time could place a burden on parents while others said it would be a benefit for students.
Jen Berniker, a Westport parent, said she supported later school start times.
“I feel Saugatuck is too early at 8 a.m.,” Berniker said. “It’s been a tremendous burden on my family.”
Christine Meiers-Schatz, a School Start Time Committee and Representative Town Meeting member, said the research supporting later start times was extensive and supported the proposal.
“There’s nothing that indicates moving to 9 a.m., from what I’ve seen, would be at the detriment of our elementary students,” she said. “ ... There couldn’t be more evidence saying that we need to get our middle and high school students starting later. We should not be making our students start schools at an hour where there’s no dispute it’s not good for them.”
BOE member Karen Kleine said said she didn’t dispute the research, but didn’t agree with the notion early start times were not good for students.
“I don’t see where that’s proven exactly,” Kleine said, noting Wilton students continued to face anxiety after implementing later start times.
Students in similar districts to Westport also face pressures other areas may not.
“I think they’re going to feel these pressures no matter what,” Kleine said. “I don’t want to put this out there like it’s going to be a magic cure-all.”
The BOE floated the idea of reviewing results if the later start times are approved, ranging from reviewing test results to directly surveying students on the effect of later school start times. The possibility of creating morning programs to accommodate parents was also discussed.
BOE Chair Candice Savin said while the proposal isn’t a simple solution, it could be an important aspect in improving the social, emotional, and physical well-being of students.
“In terms of the science, I feel very convinced it would be better for the kids to start later,” Savin said.
The BOE will discuss and possibly vote on the proposal at its meeting on Feb. 10.