Change on the way for school day
The board initially passed a 2017-2018 school calendar that would delay start time at the middle and high schools by an hour and 15 minutes to allow students more time for sleep.
The new start times, if approved at second reading on April 27, would be 8 a.m. for students at the primary schools and Wentworth, 9 a.m. for middle schoolers and 8:50 a.m. for high school students, although board members may tweak the K-5 start times a bit so the school days don’t start and end at the same time for four of Scarborough’s six schools.
Since fall 2015, members of the board of education have been looking at research and reviewing studies that suggest high school and middle school start too early and don’t give teenagers enough time to sleep over the night and be prepared for an early start time. The American Academy of Pediatrics said because of the sleep cycles of students – teenagers especially – middle schools and high schools should not start before 8:30 a.m. The American Sleep Association thinks the start time should be closer to 9 a.m. The school day at Scarborough High School currently runs from 7:35 a.m. to 2 p.m. and middle school from 7:45 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.
Chairman Kelly Murphy said Scarborough’s school start times and bus runs are not dictated by science, but rather suburban sprawl. Scarborough High School has the earliest start time in the area except for Bonny Eagle High School, which starts at 7:30 a.m.
“We’ve done a lot of research on this for the last 18 months,” vice chairman Jodi Shea said after making a motion to accept option three, which was supported by five of her fellow school board members and student representative Lizzie Hobbs. “I am convinced option three is the right option for Scarborough.”
Cari Lyford, who joined the board of education right when the school start time discussion was beginning, said “developmentally, we are doing this the wrong way now.”
According to the National Sleep Center, chronic lack of sleep can lead to lack of focus and inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, aggressive or inappropriate behavior, unhealthy eating and contribute to illness, weight gain and other physical and mental health issues.
“It literally saves kids’ lives to start school later,” Murphy said.
“You can’t ignore the research. I think we have to make a change. I would not be comfortable leaving it the way it is,” Kristen Allen, who lives on Woodfield Drive.
Elementary school students, Lyford said, should be starting school before their older peers. School board member Donna Beeley, a retired elementary school principal, said in her experience, younger students tend to be the most productive in the morning and the change to starting school earlier would maximize on that period of productivity.
“It almost feels like malpractice to have high school start at 7:30 when we know what we know now,” said Lyford, a former first- and third-grade teacher. “I don’t see in good conscience how we can not change that.”
Option three also found the support of board member Christine Massengill.
“At this point, this is our best option. We aren’t trying to be trendsetters here,” she said.
Scarborough is late to make the change. Many nearby districts have already altered school start times. Mary Starr, who joined the school board a few weeks ago, has brushed up on the topic and said 300 school districts in 44 states have made the change or are in the process.
Board member Jackie Perry, who along with student representative Thomas Vachon voted against the school calendar, agrees that the start times need to change, but feels the option her colleagues support is not the right approach. Perry supports calendar option two, which would delay K-2 start time to 9 a.m., 3-5 start time to 8:50 a.m. and middle/high school start time to 8 a.m.
“That’s the fairest way to deal with this situation at the present time,” Perry said.
Ideally, she said, all students would start and end school at the same time, something that is not financially feasible because it would require the purchase of 15 additional buses and the hiring of additional bus drivers.
Vachon said he has talked to many students at the high school and hasn’t found one that is in favor of a change in start time. He said personally, he doesn’t feel strongly about keeping it the same or making a change. Hobbs said she has heard from students on both sides of the issue.
“Something’s got to change because the research doesn’t lie,” she said.
Research aside, many in the standing-room only crowd, felt the change would negatively impact their children and make their already busy schedule even more hectic. Helen Griffin said a later start time – and later release – would impact the athletic opportunities for her daughter, who swims on a local club team. Getting out of school an hour later would mean it would be difficult for her daughter to make after-school practices, which would impact her ability to swim competitively in college.
Scarborough Athletics and Activities Director Mike Le- Gage said the impact to school, or club athletics and activities, is unknown at this time.
“It is difficult, at this time, to say what the impact will be on after school athletics and activities based on the late start/late dismissal time. Specifically related to athletics, there are so many factors to consider including what time other schools will be getting out,” LeGage wrote in an email to the Leader.
LeGage said middle school athletics may have to use more fields around town in order to get in practice/games because none of the school fields are equipped with lights or use some sort of shared use/staggered use model.
If the third calendar option is approved at second reading, high school sports practices may have to be shifted an hour later. Currently practices ran between 2:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
The schedules for first-year and junior varsity games, which typically take place late afternoon, may also need to be tweaked as a result. Varsity schedules may also be impacted based on where the games are being played. The department may also have to use field lights more than now, especially in the fall and spring.
“The issue for fall and spring activities is really going to be daylight. Those facilities that have lights will likely result in very minimal impact, however, a school that does not have lights would require some accommodations,” Le- Gage wrote.
It is not an easy issue to work through.
“This is all very speculative at this point. It would require a very thoughtful approach to scheduling for both games and practices. Scarborough is fortune to have so many wonderful after-school and recreational programs and the schools are used, not only for school programs but community programs as well,” he added. “There is no question that there will be an impact on facility usage.”
While much of the discussion at the board meeting centered around sleep, Corey Fravert, a Scarborough parent and program manager of Maine Medical Center’s neuroscience service line, said it is not necessarily about how much sleep a teenager gets and more about the quality of the sleep.
“Science can indicate the best time to go to sleep and how much you should be getting, but science cannot ensure this is what will take place,” said Meeting House Road resident Jennifer Cleary, who supports leaving start times as is.
Barney Martin, of Foxwell Drive, said he knows this first hand. Martin, who has four teenagers in the school system, said shifting the start time will not result in more sleep for most students.
“If they can start later in the morning, they are staying up later,” he said, adding he has already seen that happen during late start Wednesdays.
“Leaving it the way it is is perfect. It’s been working great for most all my children,” he continued.
Scarborough High School junior Kirsten Dennen said not only will it not result in more sleep for students, it will impact after-school sports scheduling and the work schedules of those who have after-school jobs. The 75 minute delay in when she starts school will just elongate the school day for Claire Merrill, a sophomore, who after a 6-hour day at school, attends tennis practice and play rehearsal before getting home at 7 p.m. to eat dinner and start her homework. The new schedule may also cause her to eliminate some of her school involvement.
“I would be doing homework even later at night,” said Merrill, who urged the board to look past the statistics and listen to the comments and concerns students are expressing.
Barley Lane resident Brent Crossman, however, said he supports option three because the school board has done a “good job” of balancing resident concerns, the impact of the change and the science driving the change.
Many in the standing-room-only crowd, however, felt delaying the start time in the high school and middle school will only create more issues at the elementary school level.
Jennifer Jubulis, a pediatrician in the area and a parent of a kindergartener, said in order for primary school students to get the recommended 10 to 13 hours of sleep at night and be ready for a 8 a.m. school start time, they will have to go to bed at 6:30 a.m., which cuts into family time and after-school activities.
This is a concern that is shared by Sophie Kelly, a first-grader at Pleasant Hill School who keeps busy after school with a host of activities, including dance, swimming, ice skating, soccer, Girl Scouts and more.
“If I had to go to bed (earlier) I will not be able to do all my favorite activities anymore and that doesn’t feel fair to me,” she said. It would also cause her to miss time with her mother and younger sister.
Her mother, Julie Bassett said it would create a “huge hardship for my little family” and impact sports and Girl Scouts, two things that are “vitally important” to her daughters.
“It is my belief that you are exchanging one group’s sleep challenge for another’s doesn’t make sense at all.” Bassett said.
A change in start time would also mean an unrealistic bedtime for Kimberly Duffey Sawyer’s 7-year-old daughter. Option two, she said, is the “ideal compromise.”
“I can’t support the change for the high school while jeopardizing the health of our younger students,” she said.
Jessica Ramsey said while she shares some of the same concerns, she is also worried about finding a babysitter to watch her two elementary-aged daughters after-study school if high schoolers, who she typically rely on, get out of school after her daughters do.
“We are doing the best we can for all phase levels. We are not trading one problem for another,” Murphy said.
Shea said the board is making this decision, like it does all others, with the best interest of all students in mind.
“What you feel passionate about, there is someone else that feels passionate about it the other way,” she said. “We understand this is a big change and a tough change for some.”
Start time proposal
If the board of education approves the new calendar later this month, the primary school day and Wentworth School day will change to 8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m., the middle school to 9 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. and high school to 8:50 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org