Portland islanders have concerns about proposed school-day revisions

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PORTLAND — Island residents are raising questions about a School Department proposal to revise daily start and end times, chief among them a later start at the high schools.

The plan would provide 20 additional minutes of education a day, but would significantly increase the amount of time island students spend getting to and from the mainland.

“It became apparent when I compared those hours to our boat schedule what this meant for our kids is they would miss coming home at 3:15 p.m.,” said Peaks Island resident Lisa Penalver, whose daughter will be attending Casco Bay High School in the fall.

Penalver said students who miss the 3:15 ferry because schools would let out at 3:05 would be forced to take a later ferry home. She said that would add an hour to each end of the day for island students, making for a 10-hour day.

“My concern is by adding an hour of unstructured time at either end of the schedule, they’ll be hungry, at loose ends, and will be killing time,” Penalver said. “They shouldn’t have to do that.”

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said she has heard from assistant principals that the morning is not the issue. Schools open “at least an hour ahead of time” for students to get breakfast or seek extra help, so students “wandering the streets” wouldn’t be an issue, she said.

The larger issue, Thompson said, would be in the afternoon, depending on how many island students wanted to stay for after-school activities or wanted to go home. She said there are thousands of students who don’t live on the islands whose needs must be weighed, too.

“So we certainly need to take everybody’s feedback into consideration, but at the end of the day we’ve also got to look at the majority of the population of our high school and what are they doing before and after school,” Thompson said.

Thompson also said students having to wait an hour at the terminal for another ferry “doesn’t seem like a long time,” because students could use that time to do homework or reading.

“I’m not sure if that’s something now that currently happens while the students on the island wait for the boat,” she said.

Penalver said going forward, she and other island residents will plan to speak with members of the School Board, and perhaps to pitch an even later start time than what’s proposed.

Thompson said she had heard suggestions about moving the start time for the city’s three high schools – Portland, Deering, and Casco Bay – even later, to 8:55 a.m. She said this would accommodate the 60 or so island students, but would be problematic for the thousands of other mainland students.

“If we go to 8:55, they’re not even getting out of school until 3:30, which then works for the island students, but it doesn’t work for those that participate in sports and after-school activities, or have a job,” Thompson said. “So I’m not quite sure what the happy balance is.”

Thompson mentioned the possibility of speaking with Casco Bay Lines officials to discuss the ferry schedule to see if something can be done to accommodate the students, especially since students being forced onto the later ferries could affect other riders, too.

“If in an ideal world they could change the boat departure by 10 or 15 minutes max, then that may do the trick,” Thompson said.

The board was slated to vote on the schedule at its March 17 meeting, but ultimately decided further discussion is needed.

There will be another public forum on March 31 beginning at 6 p.m. in Room 250 at Casco Bay High School. There have been two previous public hearings, and Thompson said the board is accessible by phone and email for residents with questions.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.