Brunswick will explore later school start times

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BRUNSWICK — During its final meeting of the year Wednesday, the School Board decided to investigate the benefits and challenges of later school start times after survey data indicated a community-wide interest in the idea.

This fall, Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski asked department principals to gauge interest in the change, which might allow students to get more sleep, but complicate transportation, athletic, and extra-curricular schedules.

The high school has the earliest start time across the school system, with classes starting at 7:45 a.m. and students arriving by bus around 7:15 a.m., according to Principal Shanna Crofton.

Crofton conducted an online survey earlier this year and found of the 511 students who responded, 73 percent favored a later start time. There are 730 students enrolled at the high school.

In November, Walter Wallace and Steve Ciembroniewicz, principals of Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School, respectively, also conducted surveys that indicated interest in the idea.

Wallace cautioned, however, that the survey was non-scientific and more indicative of the respondents’ general attitude on the subject.

With that in mind, the board reached no conclusions, but outlined the areas where staff can plumb some insight.

One of those areas might be the health benefits of getting more sleep.

Citing a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that supported 8:30 a.m. start times for middle and high school students, board member Sarah Singer said, “The physical and mental health of our students should be a guide” to future considerations.

In response to Singer, Perzanoski said he was skeptical of whether a later start to the day would have a noticeable effect on students’ well-being.

“I think (students) adapt to whatever we ask them to do,” he said.

Crofton declined to share her opinion on a later start time, deferring to her role as a arbiter for her students’ interests. 

“I’m trying to look at this with a non-biased view,” she said after the meeting, and agreed with the School Board that future conversations should take place “in the context of the entire system.”

Student liaison Stephen Backman said, based on feedback from his fellow students, students who oppose a later start time feel more strongly than those who do.

Even though his entire homeroom voted in favor of the later start, he said opponents are worried the change will adversely affect their after-school commitments, like athletics and part-time jobs.

That concern was shared by the board and administration, as was worry over how the schedule shift would affect bus routes.

School start times are staggered so that buses can pick up younger students after dropping off at the high school, and board member Corinne Perreault said adjustments made to benefit the high school might come at the expense of younger students, who also need sleep.

“We’re debating in a vacuum here,” board member Jim Grant said, as the discussion continued to skate around the idea’s possible implications. “We need more facts.”

On that note, Chairman Billy Thompson tabled further discussion to a future meeting and a potential workshop, which would include more research into the idea’s challenges and benefits.

Callie Ferguson can be reached 781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.