Times they could be a-changin’

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education is looking for a way to help older students arrive to school more alert and ready to learn. Officials believe they may have found their answer with later start times.

The school board is exploring the possibility of changing school start times. Under the proposal, elementary schools would start at 9 a.m., intermediate schools would start at 8 a.m., and the middle and high schools would start at 8:30 a.m.

Currently, elementary schools start at 8:55 a.m., intermediate schools start at 8:25 a.m., City Hill Middle School starts at 7:55 a.m., and Naugatuck High School starts at 7:30 a.m.

The school board is holding a public forum on the proposal Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school’s auditorium.

The proposal is a change that Board of Education Vice Chairman Glenn Connan has championed for many years.

“These kids are up at 5:30 a.m. to be on buses at 6:30 a.m. to be at school at 7:30 a.m. That’s just crazy,” Connan said.

Connan said starting an hour later would help students come to school more rested, which would translate into better academic performance.

“Here we are spending so much money for different solutions they come up with. You can’t just throw money at a problem. We are starting too early,” Connan said. “I’ve always believed the cheapest thing we can do to improve academic results is to start later.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said the district formed a committee of 20 people, including parents, teachers, administrators, students, and burgesses, to look into the proposal.

“What we found is that the research substantiates the need for later school time,” Montini said. “It is the physiology of the brain and sleep patterns. It is not as easy as making them go to bed earlier.”

Montini said a later start time for the high school could also lead to better attendance, less tardiness, reduced suspensions and discipline, and a positive impact on grades.

“If you have kids who are not sleepy and missing class it will have a positive impact on grades,” Montini said.

Montini said officials worked out the issue of busing with the bus company and will speak more to transportation at the forum.

Aside from academic performance, studies show a later start time is also safer.

According to a three-year study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration published in August 2016, a later school start time decreases the chance of vehicle accidents for teenage drivers.

The study, which looked at eight high schools in Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming, found an average decrease in the rate of crashes among teen drivers of 13 percent in each school. One school, which went from a start time of 7:30 a.m. to 8:55 a.m., saw a 70 percent decrease in crashes among teen drivers, according to the study.

The only high school in Connecticut that currently follows a later start model is Wilton High School, although Norwich School District voted to start with a later time beginning next school year.

Connan said the biggest concern he has heard is the affect the proposed time change would have on sports. Under the proposal, the school day at the high school would end at 3 p.m. Most games, especially in the spring season, are played after school.

Connan thinks the change will be a positive for athletics rather than a negative.

“I think this gives our athletes a competitive advantage. If the other team wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and our team is well rested we will have the advantage,” Connan said.

Connan added that research has shown that athletes from schools with later start times are less likely to suffer concussions.

Connan encouraged parents, students, teachers, and community members to come out to the forum and express their opinions. He feels that just because starting early is something the school system has always done isn’t a reason to continue doing it.

“People say, ‘it’s always been this way.’ Well, it doesn’t have to. It can be better,” Connan said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said all school times would be pushed back under the proposal. The starting time for intermediate schools would be moved up from 8:25 a.m. to 8 a.m.