2017-01-13 / Front Page

City students set to sleep in

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Middle and high school students in South Portland will get what may be their fondest wish, starting next fall – a chance to sleep in.

After studying the issue since last summer, the South Portland Board of Education voted Monday, Jan. 9, to follow the lead of other area school districts and institute later start times.

High school classes will start 40 minutes later, while middle school students will begin their day 35 minutes later that the current schedule – 7:30 a.m. at the high school, and at 7:55 a.m. at the two middle schools.

“We want kids to sleep more because the research is very clear that more sleep for adolescents results in better outcomes in a range of areas – schools being one of them, but also their personal health,” said Superintendent Ken Kunin. “We see this as a real public health issue as well as an educational issue.”

The trend for later start times has been based on recent research by a number of organizations, including the American Medical Association, the National Association of School Nurses, and even the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All have endorsed instituting school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for teenagers.

A “Start Time Study Group” created in July by a unanimous of the school board concluded the same thing.

“Teens are biologically programmed to stay up later and sleep later, but early school start times work against their internal clocks,” the group report read.

A survey of students found that 84 percent of those in high school and 48 percent in middle school got less than eight and a half hours of sleep a night. Twelve percent said they get less than six hours of sleep.

According to the local study, not getting enough sleep can result in anxiety and depression, poor impulse control and lowered immune function, in addition to poor problem solving skills during the school day, as captured in low grades come report card time.

The report also claimed lack of sleep can disrupt the flow of hormones that regulate appetite in teens, as well as an increase injuries on the athletic field.

Kunin said the most immediate expected result of the change will be a marked decrease in student tardiness and school absences. However, one challenge still to be worked out between now and September will be the requisite change in school busing schedules needed to accommodate the new start times.

The one group that might have been expected to rail against the idea, given a need to get kids out the door in time to start their own work day, was parents.

However, the survey found significant support for the change, with 63 percent of parents of middle and high school aged students backing the idea. Less receptive was teachers and school staffers, with 52 percent of school staff members on board with the change at the time of the survey.

Westbrook was one of the first Maine school districts to adopt later start times, doing so in 2012. Biddeford and Saco did so last year, while Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and Kennebunk, among others, all have the concept on the table for the 2017-2018 school year.

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