Rethinking School Start Time Committee
During the 2016-2017 school year, the West Hartford Board of Education directed Superintendent Tom Moore to convene a research committee to investigate the challenges and benefits of adjusting school start times. This fall the Rethinking School Start Time (RSST) Committee began a one-year study of the issue. The committee will provide the West Hartford Board of Education updates on its work throughout the 2017-2018 school year.
As early as 1993, sleep researchers and health care professionals began encouraging school leaders and legislators to move school start times later. In 1998, researchers at the University of Minnesota published a study on the effects of the decision to change high school start times from 7:15 to 8:40 a.m. in districts near Minneapolis. The early research reported positive benefits of moving the start time to the 8 a.m. hour. Although researchers did not cite academic benefits at the time, they identified other positive outcomes including improved attendance and enrollment rates, increased engagement in class, fewer incidents of student-reported depression, and less frequent visits of students to school counselors for behavioral issues. Beginning with this implementation in the Minneapolis Public Schools in 1998, nearly 250 high schools nationwide moved their high school start times later, citing similar benefits.
In the early 2000s, the Connecticut State General Assembly proposed legislation that would require high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The League of Women Voters championed this effort in many cities and towns. Although the legislation ultimately failed, several school districts studied the issue and presented proposals to local Boards of Education. In 2003, the Wilton Pubic Schools, after a two-year study, voted to change the high school start time from 7:35 to 8:15 a.m. The League of Women Voters in West Hartford worked with the West Hartford Public Schools to study the issue. The committee met through the 2003 and 2004 academic years. The committee created identified four possible scheduling options and received feedback from all stakeholder groups. After a careful review of the information, the Board of Education chose not to make a change to school start times.
Over the past several years, professional including the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have issued statements in support of later school start times for high school students. These endorsements have created renewed interest in this topic. During the past two years, Connecticut has seen additional school districts researching and implementing these changes.