By Mallie Jane Kim
Setting secondary school start times later is a priority, but the initiative faces budget barriers, according to Three Village school district Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.
Scanlon shared his strong support for a time change at a strategic planning subcommittee Monday night, Jan. 23, where he and Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson introduced proposed alternative schedules for Three Village schools. Each alternative requires additional buses, and with New York’s 2% property tax increase cap in place, that money has to come from somewhere else in the budget, Carlson said at the meeting. “Anything that goes in, something else has to come out.”
Currently, junior high students in the district start the day at 7:40 a.m., and high school students begin at 7:05. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later for adolescents, citing a body of research indicating too early a start time is a prime culprit in teen sleep deprivation, which negatively affects physical and mental health — and, crucially, school performance.
“We all get the idea that the start time is too early,” Scanlon said, adding later that in his 31 years working in education, “I’ve witnessed the impact of health issues on children, [including] drugs and alcohol. This is one of them, and this is something we need to address.”
But getting secondary start times past the 8 a.m. mark is complicated due to tiered busing. Currently, the district’s fleet of 47 buses transports students in four waves, starting with the first high school pickup at 6:10 a.m., and ending with the last drop-offs at Arrowhead, Setauket and Mount elementary schools, which start at 9:25 a.m. Carlson told the subcommittee he would welcome additional schedule configuration proposals but clarified that Ward Melville High School can’t simply switch start times with the late elementary schools because its Section XI sports league requires participating schools to end by 3 p.m. And starting all schools closer to the same time would require additional buses.
The other issues currently facing the school board — proposals to reconfigure elementary schools, move ninth grade to high school and move sixth grade up to form middle schools — could make some room in the budget, as could an idea to convert an existing school into a tuition-based school of the arts.
District parents making public comment at the meeting were passionate in their dislike of the early secondary start times, with one parent calling the start time “vile,” and another comparing it to a dangerous substance, saying if the district knew a substance in the schools was causing anxiety, depression, increased sports injuries and lower test scores, “we wouldn’t balk at spending this money to do something about it, without question.”
Others suggested that the elementary school students who currently start school at 9:25 a.m. could benefit from an earlier start time since younger children tend to wake up earlier, and some families have to arrange day care before school to accommodate work schedules.
District parent Barbara Rosati, who is a Stony Brook University research physiologist and founder of an advocacy group on this issue, expressed gratitude at the meeting that the new board leadership is taking the start times seriously, but is frustrated that changes have not been prioritized in the budget up until this point.
“What we are seeing here are costs necessary to keep our kids healthy,” Rosati told the subcommittee. “Whatever we don’t do, our kids’ health is going to keep suffering.”
Scanlon, who took the helm of Three Village district last summer, emphasized that any changes the board approves would be, at the earliest, for the 2024-25 school year.