SCARBOROUGH — High school and middle school students could have the latest start times in the state beginning in September.
The School Department is considering having the high school start at 8:50 a.m. – 75 minutes later than the current 7:35 a.m. start – while the middle school would start at 9 a.m. Elementary school start times would be 8 a.m. instead of the current start times of 8:50 a.m. for K-2 schools and 8:20 a.m. for Wentworth Intermediate.
The proposal is still in the planning stages. Surveys went out to parents Feb. 22, and parents had until March 8 to fill them out. Staff and students have also been surveyed.
The School Department is partnering with Hanover Research for survey design, administration and analysis, including sleep pattern data; the results should take four to six weeks.
Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger said more than 750 parents responded to the survey in the first 24 hours.
“This would be a pretty big shift,” Kukenberger said of the later times. “There is definitely going to be a change. It is a matter of what the change is going to look like.”
The School Board is expected to make a decision at its April 6 meeting. Scarborough has been considering changing start times since 2015.
When considering the proposed adjustments, the board looked at five non-negotiable factors, which included: 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.
Scarborough would follow other southern Maine school districts that have recently switched to later start times for high schools, based on research that changing start times benefits teens for a number of reasons. For instance, in adolescence, students’ biological clock shifts so that they don’t get sleepy until 11 p.m.
“We know at that age level they need eight to nine hours of sleep” Kukenberger said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
South Portland recently changed its high school start times for the next school year from 7:35 a.m. to 8:10 a.m., with the middle schools starting at 8:30 a.m.
Schools in Saco, Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach, Westbrook and others have also gone to later start times in recent years.
Schools that have later high school start times have reduced automobile accidents, truancy and absenteeism, a positive effect on mental health and lower rates of substance use, according to research.
“I think the biggest benefit is to our students,” Kukenberger said. “Our adolescent students are going to have the opportunity to get more adequate sleep, and I believe our youngest students will have the opportunity to maximize the optimal learning window (in the morning), which will allow them to develop a solid academic foundation that will carry them through their academic career.”
Classes at Scarborough High School may not start until 8:50 a.m. if the School Department adopts a new schedule designed to better accomodate high school students’ biological clocks.