Yarmouth wrestles with later school start times

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YARMOUTH — A survey on school start times has produced mixed results.

A March 29 public forum had a similar outcome with parents, teachers and other members of the community, who are unsure whether they want school start times to be pushed back. Around 50 people attended the forum, which was facilitated by Superintendent Andrew Dolloff.

The School Committee in November discussed pushing back school start times for middle and high school students, and a survey was sent out in January. Three options were presented in the survey: No change, having all of the schools start 20 minutes later, and a flip that would have elementary schools start earlier than the middle and high schools. 

First period at Yarmouth High School begins at 7:40 a.m. except on Wednesdays, when the school already has a late start time of 8:40 a.m. School ends at 2:25 p.m. every day. Dolloff said 25 percent fewer students are tardy on Wednesdays.

Classes begin at 7:50 a.m. every day at Frank H. Harrison Middle School, where the day also ends at 2:25 p.m.

The School Committee has been reviewing research on the benefits of later start times for adolescents, which shows starting school later produces students who function more effectively and doesn’t result in later bed times, which allows students to get more sleep. The research also found schools with later start times generally report better grades than schools with early start times.

The School Department’s survey, which was taken by 718 people, found that 35 percent of people think it would be “acceptable” to have no change in school start times, while 22 percent said it would be “strongly favorable” and 22 percent said it would “not (be) favorable at all.”

Pushing back school start times by 20 minutes was found to be “strongly favorable” by 37 percent of people, “acceptable” by 22 percent, and ” not favorable at all” by 15 percent.

Flipping start times between schools was found to be “strongly favorable” by 35 percent of people, “acceptable” by 12 percent, and “not favorable at all” by 31 percent.

Dolloff said the results varied, but option two had the most people saying they favored it and the least saying they didn’t favor it.

“As you can see, it’s unanimous – unanimous in that it’s all over the place,” Dolloff joked. “But that’s why it’s important to get the public’s input.”

At Tuesday’s forum, attendees said their biggest concerns about the current start times are tired, unfocused kids; rushed mornings; bad academic performance, and mental health issues. One woman noted that the schools should do more to address mental health issues and students’ stress levels, regardless of whether start times change.

Concerns about changing start times included the impact on families’ schedules, finding child care, finding time to do homework and after school activities, less daylight in the afternoon for sports, and the impact on the bus schedule.

Suggestions for the task force researching the issue included collaborating with nearby school districts to see how a change would impact sports schedules and to look at starting 30 minutes later instead of 20. Many people said 20 minutes doesn’t seem like a significant change.

Jill Werb, a parent of two middle school students, said she’d like to see later start times.

“I’d love to see the start time pushed back between 20 to 40 minutes,” she said. “My kids are really tired and getting increasingly tired as they get older.”

Tony Cowles, who has a child in high school and two in middle school, said he and his family don’t want to see a change.

“We would prefer to see things stay just the way they are,” he said. “Although we acknowledge that the scientific research says otherwise, my kids’ afterschool activities would be impacted. They’d prefer to keep it the way it is.”

The two student representatives on the task force said they are conflicted over the issue. Ben Van Lonkhuyzen, a junior at YHS, said he’s unsure whether later start times would be helpful.

“It’s really hard to tell because there is good scientific data for starting late, but then we’d get out late,” he said.

Johanna Hattan, also a junior, said she and Van Lonkhuyzen are creating a survey for high school students so they can get their input.

“As students on the committee I think it’s important for us to represent what students want, even if we don’t agree,” Hattan said.

Dolloff said the task force will review the results of the public forum and the school department’s survey and make a recommendation to the School Committee.

“If they do make a decision this spring, it’s my hope that something would be implemented this fall,” Dolloff said.

It’s still unknown when the meeting will be, but Dolloff said parents will be alerted ahead of time and will also be informed of what the recommendation will be.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff leads a public forum attended by about 50 people Tuesday night at Yarmouth High School to discuss changing the time school starts at the elementary, middle and high schools.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • truther

    Is the issue really as black-and-white as this article suggests? Perhaps it’s unintentional, but the article is almost something you’d read in the Onion. I love the quote about how that one family wants to keep things the way they are even though “the scientific research says otherwise.”

    • Aliyah33

      “…’one family wants to keep things the way they are even though “the scientific research says otherwise.'” Perhaps it’s because both parents work, and it’s difficult to juggle the schedules, including after school activities, for all of them with time changes. Wonder if they’ve thought about extending the number of school days in a calendar year to better accommodate time changes…full year of school, decrease attendance days/week, with non-school days for extracurricular activities, later starts (an hour vs. 20 minutes), or track schedules? That probably wouldn’t fly for several reasons.

  • Chew H Bird

    So the real question is, since the article only mentions percentages…

    How many are tardy on each day of the week? If 25% less kids are late to school on Wednesdays, that that percentage involves four kids, why is this even being discussed? It would be helpful to actually have real numbers to consider.

    I have read from several sources that later start times for teenagers is generally a good thing based upon biology. I recall a college professor once claiming the single best class time for students to learn being between 10:00am-11:00am on a Wednesday, (but that was 30 years ago).

    As a high school student I was naturally the type of kid who would sleep late in the morning and work later at night. It seemed to be my natural rhythm. Now well into my 5th decade, the tables have turned and my most alert time is between 6:00am and 2:30pm and I can fall asleep by 10:30pm…

    No schedule is best for everyone simply because we all have different obligations but strategically timing the school day for the optimum biological attentiveness for the majority of students makes sense to me.