GUILFORD, CT — After years of study Guilford has joined a small group of Connecticut towns that have moved their school start times later to allow kids more sleep.
The Guilford Board of Education voted Monday to open high school 15 minutes later at 7:40 a.m this coming school year, and middle school 10 minutes later and elementary school five minutes later than last year.
While multiple studies have shown that starting school later is a good idea to allow students more sleep the issue, in the words of Guilford Board of Education Chairman William Bloss, “is the most difficult issue I’ve faced in my years on the school board.”
Bloss said the time change impacts after-school employment for high school students, child care, sports, other after-school activities such as arts or music, and participation in programs at magnet schools.
Over a decade 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.
And in the 2017-18 school year Greenwich went to later start times for high school and middle school students after a lengthy study of the issue.
Besides those two and Guilford, school officials in Bridgeport, Cheshire, Ridgefield, Westport, and West Hartford, among others, have held various levels of discussion about starting later.
In Guilford, the system has been studying options to delay start times since 2014. In 2017, Superintendent of Schools Paul Freeman and the Board of Education convened a task force of administrators, school board members, teachers, parents, students, and medical professionals to make recommendations.
In its report, the task force said: “Sleep deprivation is a common problem in teenagers. Currently, fewer than 10 percent of teenagers in the United States are getting the recommended amount of sleep on weeknights, and the amount of sleep that teens get decreases as they proceed through high school.”
The task force made several recommendations to minimize the impact of the time changes including consolidating bus routes to avoid increasing costs to the town and shortening the time between classes to avoid shorter class periods, among other steps.
The task force’s report is available here.
While the high school start time in Guilford has been moved to 7:40 a.m., the hope by proponents was, and still is, to move it even later, targeting 7:55 a.m. as an eventual goal.
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.
Canapari said sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of car accidents, which is the biggest cause of death for teens.
Vincent Mustaro, senior staff associate at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and a past superintendent of schools in Oxford, said CABE doesn’t keep track of which schools have switched or are contemplating a switch to later start times.
“I know as a former superintendent of schools that there are a tremendous amount of issues involved in such a decision,” Mustaro said, “even though there is universal agreement that it’s a good idea to allow kids, especially high schoolers, more sleep.”
“There are the after-school activities, neighboring school schedules, etc.” Mustaro said. “I will say this — any school district that is contemplating such a move needs to make a concerted effort to involve the community.”
The National Sleep Foundation found that research shows the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning. This research indicates that school bells that ring as early as 7 a.m. in many parts of the country stand in stark contrast with adolescents’ sleep patterns and needs.
Evidence suggests that teenagers are indeed seriously sleep deprived. A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60 percent of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day, according to their parents, and 15 percent said they fell asleep at school during the year.
Local school officials believe changing school start times might be easier accomplished if the state took the lead.
But state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, has said in the past the state has struggled with the same complex issues local officials have in looking at the issue.
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 has said. “Taking this region by region is one approach to push the agenda forward.”