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Norwalkers slam plan to delay high school start times

Norwalk Public Schools would add five buses to its fleet to accommodate earlier high school start times in 2020-21, under a plan being considered by the Board of Education.

Jared, a Brien McMahon High School freshman, addresses the Norwalk Board of Education on Monday, as shown in the Norwalk Public Schools video.

Correction, 4:20 p.m.: Mike Barbis made no definitive statements in support of the plan to change high school start times.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools says it wants to make high school start times later as a matter of public health. Norwalk high school students and teachers are pushing back.

“I don’t believe kids are gonna be getting more sleep is this we’re just going to adjust to this hour later,” Jared, a Brien McMahon High School freshman, said Monday to the Board of Education. “…The only reason why I am not sleeping that much is because there’s homework.”

He continued, “We’re going to lose teachers if we change the start times because they’re already barely seeing their kids. My world history teacher has very young children and sees them four times a week. Changing the start time will have them changing their whole schedule around and they’re just going to have to leave McMahon.”

Board of Education members plan to vote Tuesday on the proposal developed by the School Start Committee via eight months’ worth of meetings and discussion. The recommendation, supported by Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, is to change the high school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., in the 2020-21 school year.

Four students and five Norwalk teachers were among those speaking their minds at Monday’s public hearing on the proposal. Concerns were raised about students working after school, students taking the train, integration with sports schedules and students walking home in the dark.  This might work in other communities, but Norwalk’s diversity hasn’t been considered, some said. Teachers weren’t consulted, others opined.

“It’s just a fact that when puberty hits, teens’ sleep cycle shifts about two to three hours later,” Sasha Carr, Ph.D., a member of the Committee, said. “… We cannot force our teens to fall asleep earlier.”

“Our start times in Norwalk last changed 20 years ago. That was the 1999-2000 school year, and that was when the state of Connecticut intervened with the district and forced the district to offer a minimum number of hours of instruction to meet the state requirement of minimum instruction,” Adamowski said. “I think we’d like to think that our district has evolved a lot since then. And that we would be ahead of the curve on this important issue.”

The proposal “struck just the right balance in terms of what was needed, what students most needed, and also what the board was expecting us to do in terms of coming in a financial responsible level,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said, explaining that this plan is estimated to cost $457,000 for transportation expenses.

NPS School Start Time Committee Report Sept 3, 2019 – executive summary

“In theory, I think this plan sounds decent,” a female Brien McMahon senior said. “…The time proposed gives like an hour delay, so I’ve been looking at my schedule to see how that will affect me. And it’s still giving me the same amount of time of sleep.”

The BMHS student body is 49% Hispanic, 29% black and 24% white, she said. “I know several students who work multiple jobs and I know a lot of them who have to rent their own apartment due to social problems in their house,” and in her case, she’d lose $70 a week from losing one hour’s work.  “If I work less time, I got less money. And one more hour means one more hour to pay the babysitter. So that means I have less money to pay the babysitter and less time to go home and take care of him.”

Most students who work are seniors and seniors can have an open end to their day, a system that is working in Greenwich, Adamowski said.

A Brien McMahon teacher said he knows at least six juniors who work.

“The typical student in Norwalk is a member of the workforce,” he said. “The cost of staying one hour later is astronomical, and also impossible to even fully quantify. Most teachers are employed after school during afternoons and evenings to make ends meet. For me personally, to add five additional hours of childcare per week and remove five employable hours is a two-pronged effect that teachers simply can’t afford.”

The Board is planning to meet with the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and discuss work issues, Adamowski said.

A mom reported that her daughter, a NECA (Norwalk Early College Academy) sophomore said, “Mom, please don’t let them do this. You know, it’s hard enough to get the classes I want because of all the conflicts….I heard from her French teacher that they lost three AP kids this year because they couldn’t make it work with the P-tech kids. Because P-tech kids have to leave for NCC (Norwalk Community College). And they scheduled the classes in the afternoon.”

“We are aware of a number of scheduling improvements that are needed at Norwalk High School, (home to NECA),” Adamowski replied, explaining that later start times would facilitate the college courses NECA students take.

“I hear that you’ve been doing the research for years and years and years, but many of us we weren’t aware,” the mom said.

“The initial plan was to study this last year and do it this year. And the Board of Education made a decision to postpone, the committee received additional time,” Adamowski said. “And so here we are, but we’re what we are seeking is a year of planning and dissemination and information. So, you know, it’s the old question, you know, if not now, when?”

One dad spoke in favor.

“I’m really impressed that the board has embrace science, and is trying their hardest to implement it,” Sam Fitzgerald said. “I think that the evidence, as we’ve seen so far is that the overwhelming evidence statement here is that kids do better when they start school later.”

The mother of a Brien McMahon freshman and a recent graduate said, “the biggest question I have is the consistency across the neighboring communities. … And I think this is one of those times where we don’t want to be ahead of the curve from the rest of them.”

She mentioned sports and organizing between the high schools.

Carr said she sits on a regional education board and pointed out that the state legislature is studying high school start times. “There are multiple communities around us that are considering this change. … I do think that we are starting to have these conversations across the region and across the state.”

“I agree with you, it would be easier if we all move together,” she said. “But as far as Norwalk goes the timing is very good for us to do this now.”

While some, including Jared, said teens will just stay up later if school starts later, Carr said, “I hadn’t read all the science, that’s what I would think to for sure…. there’s just a huge amount of evidence because other districts have done this.”

Costanzo said 1,000 American schools have gone to later start times and only 10 have reverted to their old schedules.

“It’s pretty convincing that when you make the change …  it does have more good overall, for the students,” he said. “Although we may not realize it initially, in time, we’re going to be we’re going to be grateful that we were courageous and made the decision that we made, if the decision is made next week.”

“I know that you guys said that there has been studies shown that the students are going to sleep at the same time,” a Brien McMahon sophomore said. “But for people who literally have a commitments every single day as well as tackling homework that teachers are giving them, they’re not going to get the same amount of sleep.”

The Norwalk Federation of Teachers surveyed its members “to provide our input and voice that’s been deliberately excluded,” Katie Okrentowich said. Of 193 respondents from both high schools, “14% believe that change would affect them positively, 10% felt that the effects would be neutral and 75% responded the change would affect them negatively.”

“For so many, a later start time does not equal an additional hour at home, anyone familiar with the realities of route 95 commute… knows that to be true,” said Okrentowich, NFT steward at Brien McMahon. “…The educators of Norwalk do not ask that you weigh the needs of teachers ahead of the needs of students. We simply ask that you pause to consider that teacher well-being and student success are linked.”

NFT President Mary Yordon spoke for a Cranbury Elementary School teacher who had left and said that teachers there are concerned about long days, with children on long bus rides where a 15-minute delay is “typical.”

“We really do believe that there will be kids out there in the dark coming home from school, among our younger ones,” Yordon said.

There’s only a 10-minute change planned for Cranbury, ending school at 3:50 instead of 3:40, Adamowski said. Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said the longest bus ride to Cranbury is 35 minutes. Carr said that the additional buses planned might shorten the Cranbury ride.

Sunset in January is at 4:49 p.m., NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said. “So you have 18 minutes of sunlight in order to get home in most of the parts of Silvermine, Cranbury and Wolfpit are not well lit. There’s not great sidewalks. So that’s a city issue. But you’re going to have elementary school kids getting off the bus in the dark or very close to the dark.”

“I think the committee was very concerned about reports and received and concerns had received from a parents about students waiting for buses in the dark,” but parents objected to elementary school starting before 8 a.m., Adamowski said.

There are more than 1,000 teachers and, “There’s been zero-zero-zero-zero survey done of the thousand professionals that you place in charge of educating the children of Norwalk,” Giandurco said. “You have never reached out to us. Mary has been excluded. I’ve been excluded… Some of the comments that were here tonight made by many of the board members, it appears that the decisions already been made. And unfortunately for some of the people that have come here tonight, they’re going to see the rude awakening of how government works.”

24 comments

Milly October 9, 2019 at 6:12 am

Of course the decision has already been made – these meetings letting the public speak are a joke. When I was in high school everyone liked getting out of school at 2:00. I do not think it is puberty not allowing teens to sleep it is the internet, texting, etc keeping them up.

Mike Barbis October 9, 2019 at 8:21 am

Nancy,
You need to correct your story. I have voiced NO opinion on the School Start Times. Thus, your statement that “The recommendation … supported by BOE Chair Mike Barbis” is completely made up. I have voiced ZERO opinion on this so you need to correct this.
Mike

Bruce Kimmel October 9, 2019 at 9:41 am

The story leaves out some important issues:

1. The start time change is, first and foremost, a serious health issue and the scientific evidence is conclusive. The report of the task force contains lots of information on various studies and a statement from ten local pediatricians. This is a health issue that is being addressed nationwide by schools.

2. The BOE has recently met with the directors and staff of the city’s Mobility, Transportation and Parking department, the director of Economic and Community Development, and the Mayor to discuss traffic concerns. These departments support the initiative and will budget funds to hire a consultant who will examine traffic patterns and potential problems as the initiative is implemented next year.

3. Our high schools will be meeting this year to work out schedules that ensure that students in specific situations, whether related to sports or jobs or other types of after-school services, are not adversely impacted by the change in start times. Other districts have managed this; there is no compelling reason why Norwalk should not proceed on what is a serious health issue — according to a variety of national and international agencies.

4. The data indicates that students in diverse districts, such as Norwalk, do much better academically and in other areas after high schools adopt later start times. These studies have focused on academics and other social/emotional issues.

Isabelle Hargrove October 9, 2019 at 10:27 am

Mr. Kimmel’s point below is very telling:

“These departments support the initiative and will budget funds to hire a consultant who will examine traffic patterns and potential problems as the initiative is implemented next year.”

It admits that they anticipate significant traffic issues, but they are still pursuing it so a PAID consultant can watch kids and guardians stuck in traffic on their way to school.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to first study traffic impact to even see if this is feasible?

Also, can we stop spending money we don’t have? Or are taxpayers supposed to pony up endlessly for every idea and study that comes along? Here is to spending a 1/2 million more in just transportation (and we know it will be more), let’s hire a traffic consultant, who really believes these will be the only costs?

This is on top of the district needing millions for the 350 plus kids who just arrived in our district.

We are out of control here. What is the mayor’s plan to come up with these funds? More taxes…

niz October 9, 2019 at 11:53 am

few support this, many do not.. still as usual Norwalkers are ignored, folks that work and have families & households to manage / raise are IGNORED
local / city / district Election cycles & outcomes rarely reflect needed changes

Bruce Kimmel October 9, 2019 at 11:58 am

The consultant will not cost much money. Around $40,000. It will be part of the Mobility, Transportation and Parking department’s 20-21 capital request.

We consulted with the city’s traffic engineers and they said this is an unusual situation because we are not adding a store or other type of new building. We are merely changing the time that vehicles will converge on our schools. The number of vehicles will probably remain the same, or even decrease if more students end up taking buses, especially to our high schools.

Our engineers agreed that it is best to have the consultant on site at the very beginning of the school year, at which point we can quickly make the necessary adjustments, should there be a need to do so. That’s generally how it’s done with these types of situations. This is nothing like adding a BJ’s to Main Avenue.,

During this school year, we plan to survet parents on why they drop-off and pickup their students instead of using buses. Also, the city is considering future budget requests aimed at making areas near schools safer, more walkable.

TRS October 9, 2019 at 12:28 pm

The decision has already been made, folks. These public meetings are just lip (ear?) service to make the big wigs look like they care about imput.
Bottom line….unhappy teachers make for unhappy students. Then you can take it from there.
The teachers and coaches in the towns that recently moved start times back will all tell you that it is not working well at all.
And why don’t the middle school teachers and the elementary teachers have a say on this? Surely they will also be affected.

Mark J October 9, 2019 at 1:45 pm

There are many flaws with this plan. One the vast majority of the stakeholders had very little input. The entire purpose of this report is based around the pediatricians saying kids need more sleep. Last time I checked this was not an epidemic where students or adults were dying at alarming rates that would required the CDC to get involved. secondly our diverse community really was not considered for this. Doing surveys AFTER you put something through is ridiculous. That is saying lets build a house without a blueprint. We have so many moving pieces in this community that just simply uplifting thousands of lives is a daunting task. You have 100’s of teachers who commute from out of town. Fighting traffic on I-95 is a nightmare if you leave your house five minutes late let alone 1 hour later! Many teachers will leave our district to avoid this commute either home or to work. Don’t you want to keep the outstanding staff we already have?

Why do we need to do a traffic study and pay someone to do it? Any person in this city can just park in a driveway on either highland ave or strawberry hill and see what a disaster dismissal is. What if you have a child that is in both Elementary and Middle school on one of these two streets? Highly unlikely one will get to school on time. Why waste 40K dollars when obviously that is just one of many red flags that should have been raised when the document was typed up.

Afterschool activities: Loosing instructional time to go to a sporting event will be costly academically for our students. It is almost redundant to let kids out early to go to a sporting event. Isn’t the point for them to keep the status quo with instructional time? Look at Greenwich they have lost hours of instructional time for an open ended schedule. Our demands for the students have increased with the IB program, graduation requirements, P-tech, etc. It seems like a disservice to our students by doing this. In addition to sports practices getting pushed back an hour you are cutting into our youth programs using the lighted facitilies. This is going to continue to strain our youth sports already as we only have these actitivies in the rec leagues since intermural sports were eliminated at the middle schools.

I can keep going but the data against far exceeds the data for this inititative. There are many things that need to be addressed before this should be passed. It needs to be tabled for a new superintendent and the new board next year.

Debora Goldstein October 9, 2019 at 3:44 pm

As all of the stakeholders in the education system duke it out, please consider that everyone else who commutes by car will ALSO need to adjust their schedules to accommodate the buses that will now be stopping traffic at every stop during prime rush hour, rather than a little earlier. There are going to be a lot of people missing their trains the first few weeks of school, until they get used to this…

Allyson McFadden October 9, 2019 at 4:34 pm

I agree with Milly. When I graduated from Stamford High School, way back when… I got out of school at 2pm and Loved it. During my senior year I had a job and was able to go home before starting work at 3pm. Many of the students have younger siblings to watch, the teachers have 2 jobs and long commutes.

Isabelle is right – We are taxed enough!

And guess what? The students will Not get an extra hour of sleep, they will stay up longer.

#ifitaintbrokedontfixit

Adolph Neaderland October 9, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Perhaps another example of questionable city operating governance,”the stakeholder public be damned, we know best”.

Before a vote is taken on this important issue, wouldn’t it be prudent to publish a quantified survey of affected school participants,(including Mr. Barbis), advocates and dissenters, with the rational of their positions so that the general public can have a better understanding of the pros and cons of this issue.

TRS October 9, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Welcome to Norwalk, where 99% of the people are against changing the school start times, yet, just because an “expert” says it’s cool and another town is doing it, it will be rammed down our throats…without a public vote.
Oh yeah, it’s because “People don’t know what they want. They only know what they have.”……..-Supt. Adamaowski.
(yes, he really said that to the press. This should have been a FIRE-ABLE offense, it was so insulting.

Tom In East Norwalk October 9, 2019 at 10:46 pm

To quote Bruce Kimmel — “The consultant will not cost much money. Around $40,000.” That statement is indicative of one of the problems we have in our City Hall. When our elected leaders or candidates for office feel it’s insignificant to spend $40,000 for a study on a decision that’s already made – we are in trouble.

Tysen Canevari October 9, 2019 at 11:40 pm

Instead of changing the time of school starting we should worry about some of the real problems facing school. This seems like a parental issue making sure the kids get to bed and get up in time. How about we save the 40k and pay for the buses so the kids can have athletic events against other middle schools. We really need to pay for a traffic study? When does common sense prevail?

Andrew October 9, 2019 at 11:55 pm

“This is nothing like adding a BJ’s to Main Avenue.,”

Didn’t the consultant that the council used to justify this project say there was going to be no significant impact regarding traffic with this project?

Mike Lyons October 10, 2019 at 7:59 am

?Question? – maybe Mr. Barbis hasn’t issued an opinion because he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

TRS – 99% of Norwalkers are opposed? What scientific survey confirms that assertion? Let’s be generous and assume that 50 people have made statements opposing the plan at the meeting and on NON. Norwalk’s population being around 89,000, that’s about 1 / 1,780th of the population.

Kevin Kane October 10, 2019 at 8:46 am

Where can we find results of Norwalk Public Schools investigation they did into the academic performance and well being of the students living in Norwalk who send their kids to private schools? Shuttles from Norwalk to Trinity Catholic in Stamford, St. Joseph’s in Trumbull, Notre Dame in Fairfield, all leave Norwalk at around 7 AM. Two of our friends 9th graders start their day at around 6:00 to get to school on time and this has been going on for years for thousands of kids. What were your findings Mr. Kimmel? Based on the logic being used and the experts opining, the Norwalk students must be failing out in droves at the private schools – no?

The train from East Norwalk to Fairfield for Fairfield Prep and further to Milford for Laurelton Hall leaves at 6:58 AM. What were the numbers for students failing or doing poorly who live in Norwalk but attend either of those schools?

How are all the students doing academically? As Tysen says, where is mom and dad in these scenarios? Screens, sugar and sleep need to be looked at in depth so that the schools don’t have to pinch hit for parents who are MIA in those 3 critical areas.

Russell Miller October 10, 2019 at 12:34 pm

To the Superintendent

DON’T do it !!! The TEACHERS AND FAMILIES
ARE AGAINST THIS !!!! I just watched this hearing and I couldn’t agree more that your minds are made up.
And SHAME ON ALL OF YOU for not consulting teachers! They are the critical engines that make the Norwalk school system so special !!!
Hopefully you do the right thing and keep the start times the same everywhere !!!!
Thank You !!!

John Miller October 10, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Let me see if I have this right. Changing the start times based on some self serving “settled science” is going to cost the taxpayers an additional $475,000 for bussing and we need to spend $40,000 for a study to tell us that traffic will be adversely impacted by the additional bus traffic. I may be a bit of a dinosaur but those of us who attended high school in the 1960’s started school between 7:30 and 8am. In fact, my high school (Central Catholic High School) was a regional high school with a significant population from Danbury and as far away as New Fairfield. Those folks were on buses well before 7am. To the best of my knowledge, none of us experienced health problems, diminished longevity or success in our post high school years. The most significant threat to our well being in those days was the Draft Board.

If I’m not mistaken, the first words of the Preamble to the Constitution are “We the People” not “We the Government.” It’s time for “We the People” to replace this BOE.

Tory Ferrara October 10, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Does anyone have data on how many Norwalk Public School teachers will leave if this change is instituted next year?

Aaron October 12, 2019 at 8:28 am

Five students spoke at the meeting. Four Hispanic: four female and one male, and one Asian female. They spoke powerfully, passionately, and eloquently about the negative impact this would have on IB, their jobs (used to pay RENT), and their childcare obligations. They spoke to an all-white panel that “heard their concerns“ and continued to plow forward with “understanding and concern.” Right. It was infuriating.

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