New Canaan students, parents share break of day struggles as Superintendent releases school start time survey
NEW CANAAN — Every weekday before 7 a.m., Bob Evans drives the eldest of his three children in New Canaan Public Schools to their bus stop. Because of the early hour and the vacant expressions staring back at him, he calls it the “bus of zombies.”
“Everyone is sitting there by the window with pained looks, wondering what they’re doing up at this hour,” Evans said during public comment at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
Hannah Moore, a New Canaan High School freshman, is driven to school every day by her mother instead of taking the bus, so she can get an extra 20 minutes of sleep. Still, she normally doesn’t have time to eat breakfast, and starts her day consuming only a cup of coffee.
“I’ve dozed off on the hallway floor waiting for first period to start many times,” said Moore, also in public comment.
At the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi presented the results from an online survey administered by Hanover Research in April that asked 1,312 middle and high school students, 1,126 parents and guardians and 379 staff members to weigh in on potentially moving school start times back. Luizzi announced a start time committee would convene in the fall.
The results of the report show later start times would help improve before-school care and make work schedules easier for parents. Respondents also said later start times would likely result in more sleep for students, which can lead to less depression, less substance abuse, fewer car crashes, better grades and better attendance, according to the National Conference on Adolescent Sleep, Health and School Start Times.
Drawbacks included less time for homework and after-school activities, changes to faculty schedules and to child care. The key logistical concern, according to Luizzi, is transportation and finding a way to make a new bus schedule work.
Board of Education Chairwoman Dionna Carlson said a traffic study would likely be needed to investigate effects to bus routes and residents heading to work during rush hour.
“I’ve heard from members of the community, that work in the community, that they’re very worried,” Carlson said. “That Farm Road, South Avenue area is a bottleneck area.”
Luizzi suggested the board and administrators should continue to research later start times for middle and high school students and slightly later start times for elementary school students, and prioritize students’ sleep.
The presentation of the data came after several months of parents and students speaking at board meetings, advocating for later start times and for the conversation to be public.
“It has to be a decision and a conversation and a reflection on the wishes of the community,” Luizzi said.
He said the goal of the committee would be to make a recommendation to the board by November, before the official start of next year’s budget season.
Meanwhile, New Canaan students and parents continue to share their stories of early-morning struggles.
“Most of the school year is dark at 7:30 in the morning,” New Canaan High School junior Kate Reeves said. “I just didn’t understand the logic of being awake when it’s dark outside. I thought that was the world’s way of saying that it was nighttime and that we should be asleep.”
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