School Start Time Committee Recommends 8:30 am HS Start

School Start Time Committee Recommends 8:30 am High School Start
Posted on 09/04/2019
This is the image for the news article titled School Start Time Committee Recommends 8:30 am High School Start

At the Board of Education workshop meeting on September 3, the School Start Time Committee presented its report and recommendations from its comprehensive study of the issues, impact and alternatives. The committee recommends shifting to a high school start time of 8:30 am, beginning with the 2020-21 school year. 

The recommendation maintains the current middle school schedule of an 8:15 am start. No elementary schools would begin prior to 8 am and most would follow their 201920 schedule. 

Board members agreed to forward the report to the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, which will meet on September 17 in City Hall at 5:30. The Board will hold a community forum on the recommendations on October 7, 7 pm in the Common Council Chambers of City Hall. The full board is expected to discuss, modify and vote on the report in October. 

For a PDF copy of the full report, click here.  

Informe y Recomendaciones del Comité de Hora de Inicio Escolar

Resumen ejecutivo

Executive Summary:
School Start Time Committee Report and Recommendations

For nearly 20 years, Norwalk Public Schools had little significant change in its school start times.
Over that time, scientific knowledge has grown about adolescent biorhythms and the effects of early start times on the health and well-being of high school students. Scientists have learned that around puberty, adolescents’ biological clocks shift later, so that it is difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. or wake up before 8 a.m., even when they practice excellent sleep hygiene. Our current schedule does not work for teens because they naturally sleep on a schedule that is different from children and adults.

For adolescents, the benefits of obtaining the proper amount of sleep include improved academic performance, cognitive function, creativity, athletic performance and mental health. Adequately rested teens are also less likely to be injured, involved in car accidents, engage in substance abuse, or commit suicide.

Thousands of adolescents across the country have shifted to later school start times and the results show very clearly that, in spite of concerns that teens will simply stay up later, bedtimes either stay about the same or even shift slightly earlier in some cases.

Based on this science and a growing understanding of the importance of sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have all recommended that high school start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.  

Amid the growing awareness of the negative impact of early bell times on student physical and social-emotional health, the Norwalk Board of Education approved a 2018-19 Priority Implementation Step on school start times under its Strategic Operating Plan, directing the superintendent to:  “Conduct a study and develop plans to address findings of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control concerning later high school start times.” 

Dr. Steven Adamowski, superintendent of schools, convened a committee comprised of community members, parents, teachers, administrators, and medical experts, supported by a consultant in school district transportation. The committee met as a whole 11 times from November 2018 to June 2019.

Committee work included a comprehensive review of the health research and data; extensive parent, student and community outreach; discussions of the potential impact on athletics and afterschool activities; consideration of potential impacts on other grade levels; and a thorough analysis of complex timing and transportation scenarios.

Two dozen alternative models of transportation options were considered based on varying start times by grade levels. Metrics included bell times, elementary school groupings, morning and afternoon bus deployment by “tier,” total window of transportation and potential cost.

The committee also reviewed a letter from Norwalk pediatricians, who have endorsed the AAP, AMA, and CDC’s policy statements on changing middle and high school start times.

The 8:30 a.m. model: 

  • Aligns with sleep study research by offering a full hour of extra time in the morning.
  • Does not have a major impact on start times for other grade levels.
  • Does not compromise the quality of athletics, arts and other afternoon programs.
  • Can be implemented at a cost that falls well within the Board’s placeholder for a 2020-2021 transportation cost increase.

With an 8:30 a.m. high school start time, the current middle school schedule can be maintained at 8:15 a.m. No elementary school would begin prior to 8 a.m. and most would follow the 2019-20 schedule. 

Based on current contract pricing, the estimated annual increase in transportation costs would be $457,000. As a result, the recommended model can be implemented at a cost that falls well within the original budget placeholder of approximately $732,000.

The committee recommends full implementation for the 2020-21 school year. A decision by the Board in September 2019 provides ample time for students, families and community members to be informed and to adjust accordingly. This timing also aligns with the end of the current bus contract, and gives the district sufficient planning time to insure a smooth transition and implementation. Each of Norwalk’s four high schools may use this planning period as an opportunity to align their schedules in a manner that enhances their unique program offerings.