Monday, December 06, 2021

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BOE Refuses to Reopen School Start Time Debate

By Jarret Liotta

Despite a petition to get the issue back on its agenda, the Board of Education (BOE) Monday night roundly rejected a request by a parent to consider reopening the discussion on school start time.

On Feb. 10 the BOE voted to push school start times back 30 minutes, primarily to allow teenage students more early morning sleep in respect to their unique physiological needs — something districts around the world have been exploring.

But even after a School Start Time Committee (SSTC), composed of parents and educators, spent more than two years drawing up a unanimous recommendation to the BOE, a number of parents and educators of elementary-age children raised objections to the decision, saying their needs weren’t adequately considered and that the board didn’t properly vet the matter.

“Over 500 voters signed a petition that is not in favor of delayed elementary and middle school start time,” parent Joe Nader wrote in a request to have the matter placed back on an upcoming BOE agenda so it could consider reversing its 5-to-2 decision.

“The board does not make decisions based on surveys,” said member Yuan Su Chao.

“The committee did a lot of work,” she said, noting the questions that were raised by the letter, she felt, were already previously addressed.

Member Vik Muktavaram concurred.

“In my opinion the committee had a broad representation (and) given that the process took close to two years, I think there was ample opportunities for everybody to participate or get their opinion to the committee,” he said.

Member Karen Kleine, who voted against the change and referenced some issues she had with the operation of the SSTC itself and how its meetings were run, still joined her board members in a unanimous vote not to add the question back to an upcoming agenda.

“We’d be doing that with every single controversial subject,” she said, if they reacted to each petition request.

Member Lee Goldstein cautioned that if they reopen the matter, 500 people with the opposite opinion could likewise present a survey.

“I do think it’s very important that we as a board make our decisions and stand by them,” said member Elaine Whitney, noting that the committee was merely a study body and did not make the decision.

“The Board of Education made this decision,” said Whitney, who actually voted against it because she felt more information was still needed at the time on the options for before-school child care programs to aid working parents.

Toward that end, Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, shared details Monday night on a new partnership with the Westport Weston YMCA to provide morning child care at each school.

He said 700 parents were surveyed and there appeared to be about 50 families at each elementary school that would make use of the program.

“We’ll find out how accurate those numbers are when we start to do registrations at the end of June,” he said.

“It is a collaboration,” he said, with the Y running the program, overseeing the hiring and program operations.

“The collaboration part really is that we are going to provide them space in each school to run the program and the district will not charge them rental fees for doing so,” Buono said.

He said it should offer “very reasonable” fees for parents and could include sports activities, crafts activities, and study options.

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