NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s high school students would be going to school in 2020-21 a full hour later than they do now, in a proposal being considered by the Board of Education.
The School Start Time Committee, after eight months of reportedly intensive effort, has recommended that the high schools start at 8:30 a.m. in 2020-21. Middle schools would start at 8:15 a.m., as they do now, and elementary schools would vary: Fox Run, Kendall, Jefferson, Marvin and Naramake would begin their days at 8 a.m., Brookside and Tracey would be at 8:15 a.m. and the remainder would begin at 9:15 a.m.
The estimated additional expense to Norwalk Public Schools would be less than $500,000, the expected cost of adding five buses to the fleet, NPS Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said at Tuesday’s BoE meeting.
The Committee considered scenarios that would have cost $800,000 to $1.3 million a year, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski explained, commenting, “This was kind of a sigh of relief moment, when we kept working on it, working on it, working on it and found that, you know, it would be possible for about $450,000, which we think is a very reasonable cost given that the health implications of this.”
“Health implications” dominated much of the presentation made to the Board.
“There is a body of research, supporting these ideas that is decades old, it’s not something that’s new or coming out of the blue,” Sasha Carr, Ph.D., said at the outset. “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. And sleep deprivation in teens is associated with greater risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, accidents, like car accidents, and suicide.”
Carr, a Silvermine parent and psychologist with a practice titled Off to Dreamland, said that there’s a hormonal change at puberty “that literally shifts teen body clocks two to three hours later.”
“So what does that mean? That means that you can send the teen to bed at nine o’clock, but it is going to be extremely difficult for that teenager to fall asleep,” she said. “…Even when we force teens to get themselves up and into school, because that’s what we do, their hormonal balance in the early morning is going to leave their brains un-receptive to learning.”
Letting teens sleep in is her biggest recommendation to parents, she said. Doing it district-wide, “We’re likely to see a reduction in things like substance abuse, depression, caffeine consumption, and car accidents… economists have actually looked at shifting start times later as a cost saving measure for some communities.”
Later start times has a greater benefit for disadvantaged students, with evidence showing less tardiness and absenteeism, “So I’ve heard before that this kind of change viewed as a luxury, but I think it could potentially be an effective and cost saving measure,” Carr explained.
Every pediatric practice in Norwalk has endorsed later high school start times, NPS Nurse Coordinator JoAnne Malinowski said. “I must say, as a nurse for 43 years and 26 years in this district, this is really a long time coming.”
More than 1,000 parents responded to a survey, and 492 high school students. Brien McMahon High School Governance Council member James McDonald said 40% of the high schoolers report going to bed before 11 p.m. and 60% said after 11. As for getting out of bed, 55% said before 6 a.m.
Teens are also concerned about how later start times would affect their after-school jobs, caring for siblings and getting their homework done, BMHS Assistant Principal Jacquelyn Aarons said, with BMHS Athletic Director Joe Maddafari adding that some athletes would be pulled from classes. “The percentage is not high and mainly sub-varsity, not varsity.”
About 30% of the student body plays sports, but that’s 10% at a time, in the three seasons, Adamowski said. Away games could be played at districts that haven’t switched to later start times, and it calculates to 2% of the student body, “I think when the committee looked at this in terms of frequency, it was leaving early about once every three weeks.”
Schedule changes would be handled individually at each school and by each School Governance Council, according to Adamowski. “One of the reasons why we need a year’s lead time for this is that schools may want to make schedule changes. And if they don’t, then we will have this very small number of students miss the class or leave early on their last class every three weeks or so.”
The Committee studied Denver’s move to later high school start times but it didn’t work here, Costanzo commented. Medical experts said a 9 a.m. start time is best, but it would cost Norwalk “approximately $1.9 million.” Elementary School parents don’t want their little children out before dark, so the 8 a.m. opening is as early as you can go, Costanzo said.
“We did our best to not change the times for current elementary family,” he said.
“I think this particular model works best for our schools,” Board member Heidi Keyes said.
Later start times means less sports accidents and injuries, and minority children show greater achievement, Barbara Meyer-Mitchell commented.
The process on this proposal is slower than some, as Curriculum Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel explained that the full Board will consider it over its next two meetings and his Committee will hold a public forum on Oct. 7.
“This is a very big deal. It will affect the entire city. At you’ll see school buses at different times and everything is going to change for the better,” Kimmel said, calling the report “excellent, comprehensive and well-read.”
Those who came to the lectern as public speakers were less than enthusiastic.
Aaron Hull said his daughter is a sophomore at the Center for Global Studies and he is a Greenwich High School educator. Greenwich went to later high school start times in 2017-18 and, “Very few of the results had been published. My perspective would be that if this was a success, they’d be shouting it from the mountaintops.”
“We’ve lost several fine educators to the challenges,” and students have lost class time, he said.
Babe Ruth Baseball President David Williams said, “This change will now determine whether or not 100 children can play baseball in the fall…. by making this change, we now radically reduce the amount of playing time that we get on the playing field. And that’s just me. That’s just baseball. I don’t know what’s going to do the soccer. I don’t know what’s going to field hockey, lacrosse, which might daughter plays both. I don’t know what it’s going to do to swimming.”
The Norwalk Federation of Teachers “objected to the closed meetings and the secret process” but appreciates “this very thorough report,” NFT President Mary Yordon said, promising “comments after we have absorbed the impact of the study.”
“There was zero – zero – staff surveyed,” NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said. “No teachers, no paraprofessional, no clerical staff, no custodians, nothing, zero. Members of the Norwalk Public Schools at any level were surveyed, to ask about their thoughts, their concerns, their needs? Zero. When you look at some of the other numbers that are reported, less in 15% of our high school students responded into that information. And that’s from your own report; 85% of the students are the silent majority. And their needs are their responses aren’t noted.”