Westport school officials ponder later start times for classes
Published 4:34 pm, Tuesday, November 18, 2014
The Board of Education on Monday discussed the pros and cons of later start times for local students, particularly those in middle and high schools.
"This has always been a real issue for us," said Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon, who said school officials had a discussion of the topic in 2004.
He said, at that time, "there was a lot of feedback from" high school students who said starting classes later would only cause them to stay up later. "Some work in some fashion after school and felt that others with an earlier schedule would take their jobs," he said.
Landon said later start times could also interfere with students participating in after-school, interscholastic activities.
And, he said, school staff likes starting earlier because there is less traffic to deal with.
"The main consideration for change in start time is more time to sleep at the high school level," said Mark Mathias, board member. "Is there any evidence that will confirm they get more sleep?"
Landon said there is "none scientifically." But, he added, it's true that if a person has less sleep than required he or she can be "sluggish."
He said some studies show that some stay up late studying or online with friends, adding that it's up to parents to "get the kids to sleep at a reasonable hour."
But board member Brett Aronow said she "saw it differently." "The evidence is pretty clear kids need more sleep" and that it's "really an issue of student wellness."
Wilton had changed its start times about 11 years ago making classes for older students start later in the morning. "But they had a less complex logistics" getting the buses rescheduled, said board member Elaine Whitney. "They only have four school buildings," she said. Westport has eight public schools.
She said there was a proposal a few years back to make a 15-minute change in Westport's start times. "There was a huge public outcry" over the proposal, she said. She said if officials were to proceed further with the discussion they would have to determine how many students it would affect and how much time would change.
Aronow said school officials would also need to continue to research the matter and come up with a "very specific proposal" to present to parents. She said any decision would "have to come from the community, as board members we can't make that decision for someone else," she said.
"I agree," said Landon. "It has to be a significant proposal," he added. "If you're going to play around with 15 minutes, then forget it."
Several parents spoke in favor of later start times, including Amy Kaplan who said she has "a whole list of benefits" for allowing older students to sleep later.
She added that the high school's start time of 7:30 a.m. "is the earliest in the nation."'
Nicole Gorman, a pediatrician and mother, said pediatricians, in general, support a later start time for classes.
"It has to do with their sleep rhythm," she said, adding sleep deprivation can cause depression and fatigue.
Board of Education Chairman Michael Gordon said the board hasn't asked for a recommendation on the matter or organized a committee to look into it. He said the board will consider the information received Monday and look further into the issue.