2017-11-03 / Front Page

Towns wrestling with start times

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

While the neighboring South Portland School District collects data on the impact changing start times and Cape Elizabeth School District begins data collection on the subject, members of Scarborough’s school start time implementation committee continue to meet about how to ease the transition in town. The group was scheduled to meet Nov. 1.

Scarborough school board members agreed in late April to change set the start times of K-5 students to 8 a.m., 9 a.m. for middle school and 8:50 a.m. for high school students beginning for the 2018-2019 school year.

The change in school start times in Scarborough has been delayed until next school year, but South Portland made the change for this school year.

Back in January, the South Portland Board of Education decided to push back the start of high school 40 minutes to 8:10 a.m. and the start of middle school 35 minutes to 8:30 a.m. after months of discussion.

“We don’t have any hard data. We will get that as the year progresses. Anecdotally, kids are more on time for their first class. The tardies have gone down somewhat and kids are more awake,” said South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin.

The change in school start time, which delayed the dismissal of high school to 2:25 p.m. and middle school to 2:45 p.m., has resulted in a “modest impact” to after-school athletics.

“Since we are all looking into this, (school athletic directors) have adjusted the schedules accordingly. It’s become a bit of a challenge in late fall because we don’t have lit fields,” Kunin said.

The change of school start and end times have caused a compressed busing schedule, especially in the afternoon when there is only 40 minutes between the end of high school and the end of elementary school, with middle school dismissal in between.

“Afternoon transportation, with the compressed dismissal times, has been a challenge. We’ve made some modifications and will make more for next year, but it is worth it,” Kunin said.

How changing the schedule would impact after-school activities and busing, are two items school officials in Scarborough have been looking into. Board of education members in Scarborough reached the decision to change the start times after a year and a half of discussions with parents, students, school staff and medical professionals.

Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Howard Colter expects a similar conversation in Cape Elizabeth as well.

“I will go back to the board after I have collected all the data and see what they want to do,” Colter said. “It is the type of thing, if done as thorough as it should, it will need to include public input, parent input and teacher input.

Cape Elizabeth does have several examples to follow. Aside from South Portland, other school districts that have changed starting times include Westbrook (doing so in 2012), as well as Saco and Biddeford, which both made the change for the 2016- 2017 school year.

Cape Elizabeth School Board decided last week now was the time to begin investigating the potential the change start times at Pond Cove Elementary School, Cape Elizabeth Middle School and Cape Elizabeth High School.

On behalf of the school board, chairman Elizabeth Scifres asked Colter to examine when other schools in the area start school, especially those schools that also send students to Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS) and those schools that compete against Cape Elizabeth in Maine Principal Association athletic contests.

“We’d like to initiate the data collection at this point so we can begin looking at this,” Scifres said at last week’s Cape Elizabeth School Board meeting.

If possible, Colter said it is important for Cape Elizabeth to coordinate start times with the other 17 schools that send students to PATHS.

“There is a need for the school districts that feed into Westbrook (Vocational Center) and PATHS to coordinate so those schools know when students will be arriving so they can lay out their instructional day,” Colter said.

While the conversation in Cape Elizabeth is just starting, the topic of when is the right time to start school is anything but new.

“The discussion in when to start school in terms of student health has been around for some time now. I can go back at least 10 years and remember conversations then about optimal time to come to school,” Colter said.

There has been a push locally, and nationally to delay the start of school for middle school and high school students. Research and studies suggest high schools and middle schools start too early and don’t give teenagers enough time to sleep over the night and be prepared for an early start time. The National Sleep Center indicates 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. 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.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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