NEW CANAAN — When Jayne Benton’s teenage son was walking to the bus stop one morning, he was accompanied by an unusual companion: the moon.

“I watched my son walk down the driveway under the moonlight. Literally, the moon was out,” Benton said at a Jan. 22 New Canaan Board of Education meeting. “It was pitch black and he was standing at the end of the driveway, waiting for the bus and garbage trucks were driving by and you couldn’t even see him … it’s a real safety issue.”

Safety and health are some of the reasons many New Canaan parents are advocating for the district to consider later start times.

Taking a look at later start times was listed as a district goal for the 2017-18 year, and New Canaan has been making moves on the subject this school year.

At the Jan. 22 meeting, Schools Superintendent Bryan Luizzi said he’s been looking at similar districts who’ve pushed back start times and is waiting for a recommendation from a company that is gathering data about what a later start time would look like in New Canaan.

“We continue to learn and continue to look for more in-depth research,” Luizzi said. “There’s a complexity that’s challenging for many districts. We resist saying on this date we’ll have something, but our goal is in the spring, we’ll come back to the board and speak to them about their recommendation for suggestions.”

Luizzi listed constraints on busing and the effect of earlier start times on young children as some of the reasons why a later start time might not work. However, many parents still spoke in support of the idea, citing their teenagers needing more sleep as the main reason why the district should consider the change.

“My junior in high school just had to fill out a questionnaire for college and one of questions was ‘What is one of most important things about high school for you?’” said parent Miki Porta. “He said, ‘The pain.’ I laughed and he said, ‘Mom, I’m not kidding.’ I know this when I have to drag him out of bed every morning at 6. This is a mental health issue. It’s really depressing for a teen to get up 5:30 or 6 in the morning and drag themselves to school.”

Many parents cited studies from the Center for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics in support of their argument.

According to a study released from the AAP in 2014, teenagers’ natural sleep cycle made them prone to staying up later, making earlier start times hazardous to their health. The AAP’s policy recommended middle and high schools push back start times to 8:30 a.m. to accommodate these sleep cycles.

New Canaan High School starts at 7:30 a.m. as do seventh- and eighth-graders at Saxe Middle School. Fifth- and sixth-graders at Saxe currently start their day at 8:20 a.m. West and East elementary schools start at 9:05 a.m. and South School starts at 8:15 a.m.

“It’s almost like the the school start times are working in reverse order of biology,” said Karen Willett, who has a sixth-grader at Saxe. “Next year in seventh grade, he’s going to have to go a full hour earlier. At the same time, his bedtime is going to naturally drift later.”

Willett is part of a loosely-organized committee of parents dedicated to looking more into the benefits of a later start time. The committee started with a Facebook group dedicated to the idea, now made up of over 700 members.

“Now our goal really is to make sure we build enough popular support in town for it so when it comes up for public discussion…it’s something people understand what the benefits are of that extra sleep and how those benefits outweigh disruptions,” she said.

Once the district has received the report from their analysts, they’ll open the subject up to public comment. Willett said she hopes a decision about the topic will be made in time to take effect for the 2019-20 school year.

“We’re happy the district is looking into this,” she said. “We feel like there’s a lot of districts around us doing it and we feel like it's inevitable.”

In 2003, Wilton public schools put later start times into effect. Greenwich also pushed back start times this school year.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata