Educators and officials are nearly unanimous in believing that teenage children would be better students if high school classes started later in the morning.
Study after study shows that students, especially as they get older, need more sleep. Those studies are what educators constantly refer to when they tackle the issue of trying to change school start times.
But that’s where the hard part starts.
“This is the single most complicated issue that I have been involved with in my time on the Board of Education,’’ said Guilford School Board Chairman William Bloss, “and I’ve been on it since 1999.’’
“Every time we answer one question, two others are raised,’’ said Bloss.
The town of Guilford has been studying changing school start times for more than a year. But the school board recently adopted the 2016-17 school budget without changing school schedules.
“We recognize that changing start times will be a positive for our students,’’ Guilford School Superintendent Paul Freeman said. “We will continue to work towards that change of times in the future, but a variety of budget pressures and other concerns are keeping us implementing any significant change for the 2016-17 school year.’’
One of the biggest advocates in Guilford for later school start times was Dr. Craig Canapari, a parent and director of the Yale Pediatric Sleep Center.
In his practice, he treats teens whose biggest problem is a lack of sleep, Canapari said, which can lead to anxiety, depression, poor impulse control, emotional problems and decreased motivation.
Surveys show that less than 10 percent of high school students get the 9-10 recommended hours of sleep, Canapari said, and sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of car accidents, the biggest cause of death for teens.
Twelve years ago, the town of Wilton switched start times at its middle and high schools from 7:35 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. for students in grades 6 to 12. Elementary school students in Wilton switched to the earliest time start slot – 7:35 a.m.
Besides Guilford, school officials in Bridgeport, Cheshire, Greenwich, Ridgefield, Westport and West Hartford, among others, have held various level of discussion on the issue.
Bloss said: “If we were writing on a clean slate no one would start high school before 8 a.m.; the science is very clear that due to real differences in how teenagers sleep, many have real trouble getting adequate sleep if they have to wake up as early as they need to now.
“But we are not writing on a clean slate: changing start times would have a ripple effect unlike almost any other change that we could make,’’ Bloss continued. “Particularly if one town changes and its neighbors don’t, athletics might be affected and might require some children being pulled out of their last class in order to get to away games on time.”
Bloss said other impacts might after school employment for high school students, child care, other after-school activities such as arts or music, and participation in programs at magnet schools.
And that doesn’t even get into the cost of changing school bus contracts, both Bloss and Freeman added.
Local school officials believe changing school start times might be easier accomplished if the state took the lead.
But Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said the state has struggled with the same complex issues local officials have in looking at the issue.
“The issue of changing school start times has been around for years,’’ Fleischmann, a Democrat from West Hartford, said. “It would certainly benefit the entire state of Connecticut if we could simply flip all the high school starting times to later times and all the elementary school starting times to early times.”
But it isn’t that easy.
“The logistics are incredibly complex,’’ Fleischmann said. “And then you have the issue of the bus contracts. There are just so many impacted parties.’’
But Fleischmann said education officials aren’t ready to throw in the towel “on what obviously is the right thing to do.’’
Fleischmann said having school districts in a particular region of the state look at the issue at the same time is a course of action that could be pursued.
“You have to start somewhere,’’ he said. “Taking this region by region is one approach to push the agenda forward.’’