Norwalk high schools could shift to later start time
NORWALK — The group appointed to examine the effects of later start times for the city’s public high schools has recommended they begin at 8:30 a.m.
The School Start Time Committee, comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and members of the Board of Education, on Tuesday presented the proposed start time that would take effect next fall. The change would push high school dismissal times back one hour to 3:15 p.m.
The committee also proposed keeping the middle school start times at 8:15 a.m. and having no elementary school start before 8 a.m.
Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo, a member of the committee, said during the presentation at the Board of Education meeting that 8:30 a.m., “we begin to see as the sweet spot in many respects.”
Costanzo estimated the change could be implemented for less than $500,000.
“This was kind of a sigh-of-relief moment,” Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski said. “We kept working on it, working on it, working on it, and found that it would be possible for $450,000, which we think is a very reasonable cost given the health implications.”
The change was spurred by a substantial amount of medical research touting the benefits of later start times, and more sleep, for high school students.
“There is a body of research supporting these ideas that is decades old,” said Sasha Carr, a parent, family sleep coach and member of the School Start Time Committee. “We know that teens are sleep deprived, the majority of high school students get far less sleep than what’s recommended by the medical community.”
According to Carr, there’s a hormonal shift that happens in puberty that shifts teens’ internal clocks two to three hours later.
“When we wake teens prior to 7:30 a.m., we’re usually depriving them of at least one REM cycle,” Carr said.
Carr cited suggestions from medical groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that recommend start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and preferably not before 9 a.m.
According to Carr, more sleep for students means higher academic performance, better attendance and less tardiness. It reduces rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and car accidents. The group presented a letter endorsing the change signed by every pediatrician in Norwalk.
Among the possible drawbacks to the switch — as identified by parents and students who were surveyed — include less after-school time for jobs, sports and homework for high school students.
Public input was limited at the meeting but mostly critical.
Dave Williams, head of Norwalk’s Babe Ruth Baseball, said the roughly 300 youth who play baseball and other non-school club sports would be negatively impacted.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) President Mary Yordon said she’d mostly reserve her comments for a later date when she’d had more time to digest the report, but said teachers she represents have concerns.
NFT Vice President Joe Giandurco said the district’s staff wasn’t sufficiently involved in the decision-making process.
“There was zero staff survey,” Giandurco said. “No teachers, no paraprofessionals, no clerical staff, no custodians. Nothing. Zero members of the Norwalk Public Schools, at any level, were surveyed.”
To implement the change, high schools will need to adjust class schedules to adapt to the new start time, a move that will be left to individual School Governance Councils.
Athletic directors will need to work with the FCIAC and other districts to adjust game start times and before- and after-school programs will need to be reviewed. Adamowski suggested a 45-minute elective period could be added at the end of the day so athletes who need to leave early for games would not miss valuable class time.
Board member Bruce Kimmel said the board planned to address the proposed start time change twice before voting on the item at its Oct. 15 meeting.
It will be discussed at the board’s Sept. 17 Curriculum & Instruction Committee meeting and the board will hold a forum on Oct. 7 to allow the public to weigh-in on the report.
“I think it’s a very, very important step forward,” Kimmel said. “We’re making school with more electives, more opportunities, better start times. We’re making schools… a more enjoyable place to be and a place where you have more opportunities and you won’t be sleep deprived.”
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