SCARBOROUGH — In a surprise move, the school board unanimously voted to change the times school will start from this fall to the 2018-19 school year.
The school board was on schedule to adopt the new calendar with the change in start times during the April 27 meeting, when they also passed a school budget with new numbers that would mean a decrease in some taxes.
The new calendar would have high school students starting at 8:50 a.m. and middle students at 9 a.m., while elementary school students would start earlier, at 8 a.m. These changes will now take effect in September 2018.
Classes at the high school now begin at 7:35 a.m., 7:45 a.m. for middle school students, 8:20 a.m. for grades 3-5 and 8:50 a.m. for kindergarten through second grade.
School board member Jodi Shea made a motion during the meeting to pass the new school hours for the 2018-19 school calendar, giving staff an extra year to implement the changes. The 2017-18 times will remain unchanged.
“I feel 8 a.m. is not a drastic time change for younger students,” Shea said.
Shea said she wanted to give Superintendent Julie Kukenberger the “gift of time” to implement the changes, but stressed the school start times were correct.
“As a superintendent, I am feeling grateful for the extra time,” Kukenberger said. ” t allows us to develop a thoughtful implementation plan.”
Kukenberger called the change a huge shift, behaviorally, emotionally and philosophically.
She said it would give administrators time for a transportation audit, which will take place the third week of June and the second week of July. The results are expected to take six to eight weeks.
Kukenberger said in a later interview that school staffers will be looking for inefficiencies during the route analysis in hopes of going from three bus runs to two in the 55 square-mile district. School start times could be tweaked accordingly, potentially allowing elementary students to start an extra 10 to 15 minutes later.
School board member Donna Beeley said the changes are about “the health and science and not so much about the convenience.”
She also said it would give the new community services director time to develop more after school programming.
School board member Cari Lyford called it the right thing to do and said elementary students should be going to school earlier.
“I think it is time to shift the conversation to whether if this is going to happen to about when,” Lyford said. “It pains me that the kids in high school (seniors) aren’t going to see the benefits.”
Jacquelyn Perry, who previously voted against the change at the first reading on April 6, said it would give the superintendent some flexibility at tweaking the times after the transportation audit. She however, did say she was not in support of such a late start time for high-schoolers.
School board Chairwoman Kelly Murphy said she didn’t support implementing later times, but would vote for it, saying it is “perhaps not in the best interest to wait.” Murphy added that there will be an adjustment period regardless of when the policy changes.
“No matter when we do it, we will have to pull off the Band-aid,” Murphy said.
During the meeting, parents, teachers and students addressed the changes, many of them against the change.
Dr. Peter Amann, who practices family medicine in Scarborough, said “early start times are toxic” and starting the day later is “for the health of our kids.”
Amaan cited some of the researched benefits of later start times for adolescents – fewer injuries, less risk of depression, obesity and, less involvement with drugs.
“This is about their health, not convenience,” Amaan said.
Scarborough would follow other southern Maine school districts that have recently switched to later start times for high schools, based on research that changing benefits teen health. Also, during adolescence, teenagers’ biological clocks shift so that they don’t get sleepy until 11 p.m.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Kristen Nilsen, a graduate student studying clinical mental health care counseling, said, “With great change, comes great stress.”
Parent Julie Bassett said she felt that board was “prioritizing older kids sleep over younger children’s sleep,” adding her children need 11 to 13 hours of sleep.
Sarah Blaisdell, a math teacher at Scarborough High School, said she enjoys spending time after school with students and doesn’t want to be a teacher who has to run out of school as soon as the day ends (to get home to her children).
During the meeting, the school board also passed s school budget that mean a tax increase of 7.78 percent, down from 9.56 percent that was initially proposed and passed during the first reading April 6.
Some savings was realized after projected health, dental, and other insurance premiums were $251,107 lower than initially budgeted. Other reductions included a revision in utility spending, deferring the hiring of a part-time athletic trainer, and a reduction in staff development.
The school board passed a change in school start times for the for the 2018/2019 school year instead of this fall. Scarborough High School students might have the latest school start times in the state.