Scarborough eyes compromise on school start times

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SCARBOROUGH — A compromise amendment could settle the debate over new school start times scheduled to take effect this fall. 

School Board member Jackie Perry proposed the amendment at a workshop March 15, where the board scheduled a first reading for later this month.

Chairwoman Donna Beeley was on vacation and absent, but wrote a letter to the board saying she would follow the panel’s will.

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

The dispute has divided the community, pitting parents of adoloscents against those with younger students, and leading some residents to circulate 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, in response to questions about Creech’s departure, said it cannot discuss personnel matters. The board also refused to reconsider his resignation. Creech is represented by attorney Bill Michaud, who insists the reason for the dispute was a professional disagreement that can be resolved. 

The policy amendment will be discussed again at a meeting the week of March 26, allowing time for school administrators to discuss the potential changes with staff. The next regularly scheduled meeting is slated for April 5. 

Board Member Cari Lyford, one of three board members targeted for ouster by petitioners hoping to remove support for Superintendent Julie Kukenberger, said start times are a public-health issue because how much sleep adolescent students get affects their ability to learn and develop. She said she admires parents of younger students advocating for their children, but hopes parents will consider the research on the subject. 

Public comment at the meeting lasted more than an hour. Comments ranged from speakers asking the board to follow American Medical Association guidelines that school for adolescents should not begin before 8:30 a.m., while others urged the board to consider and implement a compromise. 

A compromise seemed to be favored by school leadership and Kukenberger at a workshop last week. 

The school start time change was unanimously approved by the board last year, and had been under discussion since 2014. 

The current plan, set to be implemented at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, 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.

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.

School Board member Mary Starr said the town now is in a “pit of negativity” and she wants to make it clear she wants to hear all viewpoints. But she added people must remembered, “We are all neighbors, and want what’s best for students. We need to remember who we are as a community and that our children are watching us.”

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

Residents line up at a Scarborough School Board workshop March 15 to speak about school start times.

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