School times staying the same

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Hop Brook Elementary School paraprofessional Joan Griesenauer helps fourth-grader Ewan Duffey out of a car as students arrive at the school in Naugatuck on Feb. 2. The Naugatuck Board of Education has decided not to move forward with a plan to change the times schools start in the morning. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — While some officials believe a later start to the school day would be beneficial for older students, the Board of Education won’t pursue a proposal to make the change due to strong public sentiment against the idea.

The school board last week came to the consensus that it will not bring the proposal to change the times schools start in the morning to a vote.

The school board proposed changing the times so older students would arrive later and be 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.

A public hearing on the proposal in November drew mostly concerns from parents, students and school staff. The vast majority of those who spoke were against the idea.

School officials then surveyed students, staff and families to get further feedback. Fifty-three percent of students that responded favored the proposal, while only 37 percent of families and 31 percent of staff favored it.

“One of the things we found was there was more negative feedback than positive as far as the change. The change wasn’t necessarily embraced,” said Board of Education Vice Chairman Glenn Connan, who chaired the committee that looked into making the change, during last week’s special meeting.

Proponents of the plan pointed to studies that showed later start times help older students in school, in sports, and in many aspects of their personal lives. However, officials felt the public opposition to the plan was too strong to proceed.

“At the end of the day, if our customers don’t want it, they have the schools that they want,” Connan said. “All of us on the committee were pretty much in favor of it, but you can’t ignore the survey results.”

Board member Jason Celozzi, who sells solar panels, said he often knocks on residents’ doors as part of his job. When people found out he was on the school board, the majority asked him not to change the times.

“I didn’t have one person say I hope you change the school start times,” Celozzi said. “They all had different reasons but it was an overwhelming response.”

Celozzi felt the science behind the idea is sound, but it’s outweighed by the community’s response.

“You can’t argue with those facts. They are facts. But as much as you can’t argue with them, we are vessels for the community. As much as I would love for Naugatuck to be the trendsetters and for us to be the thought leaders in this area I can’t deny what the community is screaming,” Celozzi said.

Board member David Heller said the effort shows the board works hard to do what is best for the community.

“This was all about what was best for the community and best for our students,” he said. “It doesn’t appear that the community is ready for it, but this board has shown we are ready to do whatever we need to achieve our goals and follow our mission.”

Connan believes the change to later start times will occur one day.

“It’s one of those things where nobody wants to be the first one to go for something like a major change. I was hoping Naugatuck could be a leader and not a follower. At some point I think this change will occur because I think many school districts will do it,” Connan said.

Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke pointed out that the survey showed parents of elementary students viewed the proposal more favorably and said the issue may be looked into again as those students reach high school.