NAUGATUCK — A proposal to change the times schools start in the borough has struck a nerve with parents, students and teachers.
The Board of Education is proposing starting the school day later for older students in an effort to help them arrive to school more alert and ready to learn.
Under the proposal, elementary schools would start at 9 a.m., intermediate schools would start at 8 a.m., and City Hill Middle School and Naugatuck High School would start at 8:30 a.m.
Currently, elementary schools start at 8:55 a.m., intermediate schools start at 8:25 a.m., the middle school starts at 7:55 a.m., and the high school starts at 7:30 a.m.
Nearly 200 people came out Nov. 2 for a forum on the issue at Naugatuck High School.
Proponents of the plan say a number studies on the issue show that later start times help older students in school, in sports, and in many aspects of their personal lives.
School board Vice Chairman Glenn Connan pointed to a study of six school districts around the country performed by the University of Minnesota Center For Applied Research and Educational Improvement in 2014. The study found that changing to a later start time increased in the grade point average in five of the school districts. The sixth district saw an increase, but it was not high enough to be characterized as “significant” by the study.
“Can you imagine waving a magic wand, you change the start times, and magically the students did better and their GPAs were higher,” Connan said.
The majority of those who addressed the board last week didn’t share the same zest for the idea.
Naugatuck High School marketing teacher Tim Reilly, who also serves as the school’s DECA adviser, said he has DECA students coming in at 6:45 a.m. for meetings. Despite the fact that they are there 45 minutes before school starts, the DECA program has become one of the top in the state, he said.
“So you want to have them come in an hour later and I need them here earlier than the current start time,” Reilly said.
Many raised concerns over how the change would impact child care, time spent with family and students’ schedules.
Under the proposed change students in intermediate school would be arriving home half an hour before high school students. Parents and students alike pointed out that often older siblings in high school watch their younger siblings after school.
“What will be the childcare action taken to ensure the fifth- and sixth-graders, that are 10 and 11 years old approximately, are being looked after and are safe while their older siblings or cousins will be released half an hour later at the high school,” Naugatuck High School junior and student representative on the Board of Education Ben Wierzbicki asked.
Connan said the district has a daycare program, called Spark, which it buses students to after school.
Parents immediately chided that notion stating they would be responsible to pay for additional care while it is currently provided for free by older siblings.
Amy Morrissey, a fifth-grader at Hillside Intermediate School, was concerned the change would mean she got to see her parents less each day.
“When we get out earlier some of those hours we have at the end of the day are put towards time with our family. Many adults have to go work very early. I feel like, in the morning, if we had to go to school later the adults would still be gone. So those hours in the morning still wouldn’t be making up the family time that’s lost at the end of the day,” Morrissey said.
Another major concern was how the change would impact high school sports. Rumors had circulated that it could spell the end of freshmen sports.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said officials aren’t sure yet what the high school sports schedule would look like under a later start time, but added that freshmen sports would continue, Montini.
“We are in the planning stage right now when it comes to athletics,” Montini said. “We have a number of questions unanswered when it comes to athletics.”
Montini said the best case scenario is that the Naugatuck Valley League would accommodate the district’s request to move the away games to a later time and athletics would continue without any major impact. The worst case scenario is that no team or town in the NVL is willing to accommodate a later time for away games.
In that case, he said, the freshmen seasons would be reduced to 10 NVL home games and the district will look to schedule away games with out-of-league opponents.
The district is still looking at ways to accommodate student-athletes, including having a study hall the last period of the day so they can leave school early if they have an away game, Montini said.
Alyssa Peterson, a junior who plays volleyball and basketball, said the change would affect her in more ways than just who the teams are able to play and when the games take place. Peterson said her course load is a heavy one with two Advanced Placement courses and honors classes. She is also a member of the student council.
“I rely solely on my free time to do all my work and my extracurricular activities. … If you push it back I can do less and be less involved. I don’t know how that would affect me getting into college, and I wouldn’t have that upper hand that I do now,” Peterson said.
Shifting the times would also mean additional costs for busing, which drew objections from the public.
Montini said five additional buses would be needed, which would increase the current budget by $272,000 or 0.44 percent. This change alone equates to a 0.18 mill increase. He said the board would look to offset this increase through cost-saving measures in the upcoming budget.
Although they were in the minority, there were a handful of students and parents that spoke in favor of the time change.
Gary Peterson, who has three children in the school system, was thrilled to see the board considering the change.
“As someone who had to be up at 5:30 a.m. every day for high school I can tell you there is no question in my mind I would have done better in high school if I had been better rested,” Peterson said. “The decision to make the change really comes down to two questions. Is there anything that is more important than doing everything we can to provide a better education for our kids? If we know of a better way to do that, what possible excuse could there be to not make that change?”
The school board was expected to vote on whether to implement the new times during its Dec. 8 meeting, but the vote has been pushed back as the School Start Time Committee seeks further information on the issue and feedback from the community.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that a potential vote on changing the times is no longer expected in December.