Scarborough school-day shakeup a step closer

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SCARBOROUGH — The School Board gave initial approval to changing school start times to among the latest in the state.

The preliminary action drew protests from some parents in the packed April 6 meeting.

Beginning this fall, the proposal 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.

School now starts at 7:35 a.m. for high school students, 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.

Board members voted 6-1 for the new times, with Jacquelyn Perry against the policy change. 

“I have been skeptical about the youngest children starting school when they would have to be out so early,” Perry said. “I think it is ridiculous to move the change by 1 1/2 hours for the high school students.”

Several school departments in Maine, including Old Orchard Beach, Westbrook and Biddeford, have moved to later start times in recent years. South Portland recently approved later start times for the middle and high school beginning this fall.

Schools are switching to the later times because research shows that adolescents’ natural sleep patterns are different from adults and younger children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The vote came after a group of parents and students asked the board to either leave the times unchanged or to adopt an option closer to current schedules. A second option could have had high school and middle school students starting at 8 a.m. and kindergarten through grade 2 at 9 a.m., while grades 3-5 could have started at 8:50 a.m.

High schools that begin classes later have seen fewer automobile accidents and lower rates of truancy and absenteeism, a positive effect on mental health and lower rates of substance use, according to research.

“It literally saves lives to start school later,” School Board member Kelly Murphy said.

Murphy said school officials have been working on the proposal for two years; surveys sent to parents, staff and students found they were almost equally divided on the changes.

“The survey results were almost tied, and in a tie I go with science,” Murphy said.

Some parents disagreed.

Julie Bassett said the change would be “a big hardship” to her as a single parent.

Bassett said she already puts her children to bed at 7 p.m. and she would have to put them to bed at 5:30 p.m. because the earlier elementary school start times.

“Please don’t make a change that hurts families like mine,” Bassett said.

Jessica Ramsay said she is “adamantly opposed” to earlier start times for elementary school students.

“I don’t want to come home at five o’clock at night and then have to put them to bed,” Ramsey said.

But others supported the change.

Kate Shaw, who has a senior in high school and twins in middle school, is an elementary school teacher in Old Orchard Beach, where a time change has already been implemented. Shaw said her experience has been positive. 

“My experience is that my students come prepared every day to learn,” Shaw said. 

She said she has a bigger chunk of academic time with her students in the mornings, while the afternoons aren’t as long for students.

When considering the proposed adjustments, the board looked at five non-negotiable factors: no K-5 students at bus stops before 7 a.m., no bus ride longer than 50 minutes, high school and middle school students dismissed no later than 3:25 p.m, high school starts as close to the research-based ideal start time, and staff meetings must end by 5 p.m.

On April 27, the school board will hold a second and possible final reading on the school start times.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Classes at Scarborough High School will begin later next fall, at 8:50 a.m., under a plan given initial approval April 6 by the School Board.