Traffic and money could determine Trumbull school start times

TRUMBULL — No one would argue that babies need sleep, said Marty Isaac. But when it comes to teenagers, there are far fewer words about how they, too, need adequate rest.

“Adolescents are living in a state of severe and chronic sleep debt,” said Isaac, a Trumbull Board of Finance member, during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. “No one questions the benefit of sleep for babies and young children but teenagers’ brains and bodies are changing and growing just as much as they did in their earliest years.”

Isaac spoke during the public comment part of Tuesday’s meeting, at which Assistant Superintendent Susan Iwanicki and Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino discussed a report by the Late School Start Committee on the possible benefits of starting school later, particularly for middle and high school students.

The committee began meeting in 2019, sent out a survey earlier this year to learn what students, parents and staff thought about delaying start times by either a half hour or an hour. Currently, the town’s elementary schools start at 8:35 a.m.; the middle schools start at 7:35 a.m. and Trumbull High School starts at 7:25 a.m.

In his comments, Isaac said he thought that school should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., to allow students to get more sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high school students start school at 8:30 a.m. or later.

During her presentation, Iwanicki said the American Psychological Association also supports a later school start “and the science behind it is very strong.” She said later start times have a number of possible benefits, including increased attendance rates, a decrease in disciplinary action, a decrease in student-involved car accidents and a decrease in students sleeping during instruction.

Iwanicki presented the results of the survey, and, while delaying start times had overwhelming support among students, parents and school staff were mixed on the idea.

About 80 percent of the 1,193 students who responded said later start times should be a priority, but only about 42 percent of the 3,058 responding parents and about half of the 449 responding staff members agreed. Roughly 45 percent of parents and 47 percent of teachers also thought there should be no change to school start times, whereas only 9.6 percent of students thought so.

Among those who did want a later start time, a half hour delay was more popular than delaying by an hour, with 78 percent of students, 40.2 percent of parents and 37.4 percent of parents choosing that option.

However, Iwanicki said there are multiple concerns about delaying school start times, and even the committee members were mixed. She said concerns include those about how an early start time would affect other educational programs in Trumbull, such as Trumbull Agriscience and the Regional Center for Arts.

There are also concerns about how the change would affect traffic and about how it would increase transportation costs. The committee found that the earlier start times would require at least two more buses and increase transportation costs by at least $232,000.

Iwanicki pointed out that, though a half hour delay was the most popular option, there were concerns that delaying schools by that long would only push start times to 8 a.m., which is still earlier than medical experts recommend.

Most of those on the board agreed that the committee’s report had a lot of unanswered questions.

“There’s a lot of different factors here,” said board Chair Lucinda Timpanelli. “I see what you’ve done, but there aren’t any definites here we can look at.”

She said more investigation, including a traffic study and other research, was needed. Both she and Iwanicki thought it would be a good idea to specifically focus on the pros and cons of the half hour delay.

“I think if we invested our energy on just the 30 minute option, it might benefit us to bring that data back to you for your consideration,” Iwanicki said.