Scarborough compromises on later school start times

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SCARBOROUGH — The School Board Monday unanimously approved a compromise intended to defuse the controversy that has accompanied new school start times scheduled to take effect in the fall.

School Board member Jackie Perry proposed an amendment to the plan at a workshop earlier this month.

Chairwoman Donna Beeley and board member Mary Starr were absent from the special meeting Monday night. 

The start time change was initially approved last April, and would have had high school students starting at 8:50 a.m., middle school students at 9 a.m., and elementary school students at 8 a.m.

The compromise includes altering a three-phase bus system to two runs, having high school and middle school students start at 8 a.m., and having the school day begin at 8:50 a.m. for kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

Classes at the high school now begin at 7:35 a.m. The middle school starts at 7:45 a.m., students in grades 3-5 start at 8:20 a.m., and kindergarten through second-graders start at 8:50 a.m.

While member Jodi Shea voted for the compromise, she said she doesn’t believe this is the end of the discussion about school start times. 

Following the vote, Perry said Tuesday she believes in the science and research that supports later starts for adolescent students, but said it’s not the right fit for Scarborough at this time. 

The dispute has fractured the community, pitting parents of adolescents against those with younger students, and leading some residents to circulate and submit petitions to recall three School Board members.

Teachers have taken a no-confidence vote in the superintendent of schools, and there has been a public outpouring of support for high school Principal David Creech, who claims he was forced to resign because of his support for staff who opposed the new policy. 

The board cannot discuss personnel matters, but refused to reconsider his resignation earlier this month. Creech is represented by attorney Bill Michaud, who insists the reason for the dispute was a professional disagreement that can be resolved.

Perry said Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger should not be blamed for the start time change agenda, since it was part of the board’s vision before Kukenberger was hired.

Perry said it is a shame people have not been more civil in the discourse. “I’m afraid we are teaching our children how to get their way is to shout louder,” she said. 

“This is a true compromise,” she said of the amended policy.

Board Member Cari Lyford, one of the three targeted for ouster by petitioners, said start times are a public health issue because how much sleep adolescent students get affects their ability to learn and develop.

She said it is in the best interest of students in the short term to support the compromise, but the amendment is not in their best interest in the long run. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net

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