Letter: School start time evidence is overwhelming. Take the next step.

Letter submitted Sept 14, 2016 from Yuko Dunham

Dear Members of Greenwich Board of Education:

I am writing to support later school start times in Greenwich.

You may know my husband, Wheatleigh Dunham, who has been advocating for this issue for a last few years.  He and other members of the later school start time committee have tirelessly have spent their own time to make this change.  You too selflessly invest your time for our community and we thank you for your service.

To be honest, I had felt one person per household is enough to be working on this issue.
We juggle our jobs, my commute to NYC, three children and aging parents.  While the physical and emotional health of our boys are very important to me, I only started paying closer attention earlier this year because I began to wonder why it is taking so much time for you to make a decision.

I was shocked at the overwhelming evidence from the  AMA, AAP, CDC, APA, just to name a few, all support later start time in addition to most of our own pediatricians in town who signed  supporting letters. Not one refused or communicated disagreement, yet Greenwich is still not taking this step.  Why?

One piece of research you may not have heard is from my home-country, Japan, which was published in July of this year.  I felt “oh it’s another one again…” at this point.  All of these studies have started sounding to me like a broken record.  We should be spending our time to working on how to do it, not whether we do it.

In short, this study proves the same thing. Professor Tsukasa Sasaki of University of Tokyo, typically regarded as the most prestigious university in Japan, published the result of research where the data of approximately 15,000 adolescents were statistically analyzed.  More than 8.5 hours of sleep for boys and 7.5 hours for girls lowers the risk of depression and anxiety. For your information, most public high schools in Japan start the day around 8:30 a.m.

I can already hear the voice of the opposition group “we are not Japan!” as they often say Greenwich is different from Wilton, we are not Seattle, Minneapolis, Fairfax County or Cape Cod because we are special.  Yes, I agree we are all special and different, but this is not a valid reason to not implement later school start times.  Others have done it and there is no reason we cannot.

A popular argument against later school time is that sports and other after school activities may suffer. We have three boys and they all play sports – varsity soccer, varsity ice hockey, varsity crew and premier soccer.   They are passionate about their sports and we love watching their games.   If any compromise has to be made, however, the “extra” curricular activities must yield to their health and academics. I just don’t see any other way.

I believe improving health and academics of students will have an ancillary benefit, which has not been given proper attention.  Academically successful public schools improve real estate values.  While the GHS boys swim team has won 45 FCIAC championships out of 46 seasons, I doubt their victories have had much positive impact on real estate values in Greenwich despite the enormous pride we have for this team’s amazing accomplishments. We could, however, imagine (backed by research) that good standardized test scores and solid academic performance do influence new families when they choose where to locate. You may wish to read one such study here https://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/schlhome.htm

The opponents say “we believe the science” but “without a concrete plan, we can’t move forward.” – a typical delay tactic.  This “can’t do” attitude is certainly not what we know about the true spirit of Greenwich, our home for the 19 years. We are not “outside radicals” as they write.  After looking at different towns we chose Greenwich because of its excellent schools and a safe community.  Sports was not even a remote consideration.

Another popular argument against later school start time is teachers will leave as a result of possible added commute time, although that is not true based on data from districts that implemented to later start time.

Some teachers sadly may decide to leave but there is always natural turnover at any workplace.   I commute to midtown NYC and if my job gets moved to downtown, I need to make a choice whether I stay and make adjustments or look for a new job.   I know for sure there will be no survey asking me if it’s ok to add 30 minutes to my commute.

The bottom line is people who are opposed to this movement are fearful of change. We’ve been called “Marxist” – the latest written slur they use – I chuckle because it shows how much they are afraid of, and don’t want any changes even when the wellness of our students is at stake.

I know you understand the facts and you value a “can do” attitude. We need to make a change.  It is becoming seriously more embarrassing to take a position otherwise, especially when our neighboring communities, including Ridgefield, Westport and New Canaan, along with others are closely watching us and starting to take action. You can see the Ridgefield’s Facebook page.

I heard the good news that the recent report from the bus consulting company was a favorable.

I respectfully ask you to vote for high school starting at 8:30 am and all other schools starting after 8:00 am.  Thank you for reading my letter.

Yuko Dunham