South Portland schools may start later

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City schools may have new hours next fall that will push back the daily start for most students by a half hour or more. 

An ad hoc School Start Times Committee, sanctioned by the School Board in July, proposed the changes at the Dec. 14 board meeting. The proposal will go to the board for a formal vote on Jan. 9.

Under the proposal, classes at South Portland High School will start 40 minutes later, at 8:10 a.m.; Mahoney and Memorial middle schools will start 35 minutes later, at 8:30 a.m., and the city’s five elementary schools will start five minutes later, at 9:05 a.m. 

Board Chairman Dick Matthews said he expects the changes will be approved. “One of the main reasons I would support this is to give the high school students” a later start, he said. 

Opposition to later starts generally reflects concern about conflicts with extracurricular activities and sports schedules.

The impetus to re-evalute the district’s start times was centered on concerns for student health and well-being, which can be traced back to the number of hours they spend asleep. 

Too few of the district’s students are getting less than 8 1/2-9 1/2 hours of sleep a night, according to a Dec. 9 memo from Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin.

“Research clearly demonstrates that more sleep leads to better health, mental health and academic outcomes,” Kunin wrote. “We want these outcomes for our students.”

The hope with the later start times is that pre-teen and teenage students will actually use the extra time to sleep.

The expected health benefits will be plentiful, Kunin said: reduced depression and anxiety, a lower rate of obesity, reduced drug and alcohol use, higher test scores, and an increase in the graduation rate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a 2014 statement, said starting school before 8:30 a.m. is a “key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as ciradian rhythm disruption.”

Data presented at a July School Board workshop included results from a survey of 523 high school students and 631 middle school students during the 2015-16 school year about the time they preferred to start school. The majority of high school students surveyed – 84 percent – and about half of middle school students – 48 percent – admitted they get fewer than 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night. 

Two hundred nineteen middle and high school staff were also surveyed, and while 52 percent agreed that a later start time would be beneficial, 29 percent opposed later start times. 

Of nearly 500 parents surveyed, 63 percent strongly supported later start times.

Schools in other communities, including Biddeford, Saco, and Yarmouth, have also recently opted for later start times. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

A proposal for later school start times next fall in South Portland may be approved by the School Board next month. 

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.