2015-10-09 / Front Page

School start times re-examined by area districts

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — For years high school students have been the first students to start school every day, but recently districts across the state have been contemplating making a change so high school students get more sleep in the morning and report to school later.

The board of education organized a preliminary discussion on the topic Monday in which members of the board met with building principals and department heads, including the directors of transportation, athletics/ activities, special education and curriculum to discuss the benefits and challenges of such a change.

Monday’s discussion was aimed at preparing the board and school officials for a regional discussion on the topic on Thursday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at People’s Choice Credit Union at 2 Industrial Park Drive in Saco. Scarborough Superintendent George Entwistle said school districts in the Sebago Educational Alliance (Bonny Eagle (MSAD 6), Gorham, Scarborough, Westbrook and Windham/Raymond (RSU 14)) and the Casco Bay Educational Alliance (Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport/Durham/Pownal (RSU 5), Greely (MSAD 51), South Portland and Yarmouth) have been invited. Other districts in York and Cumberland counties have also been invited to take part in the meeting.

“There are a number of districts looking at this. What is required is a regional look from people interested in looking at this together,” Entwistle said.

Entwistle said while the change would be a major one for the districts, research suggests middle school and high school students should not start school any earlier than 8:30 a.m. Currently the school day runs from 7:35 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Scarborough High School and 7:45 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. at Scarborough Middle School.

According a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Study that was released in August, during the 2011-2012 school year, the average start time for middle and high schools is 8:03 a.m. In Maine, the average start time was 7:53 a.m., with only 7.5 percent starting at 8:30 a.m. or later. The majority (53 percent) starts between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m.

“When we as educators learn together, we go to research. That’s where we start,” he said, adding research suggests lack of sleep for students, especially adolescents, “exacerbates existing conditions and make them worse.”

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, insufficient sleep in adolescents can impact student health, as well as academic success and can increase tardiness and truancy. The CDC indicates those individuals who do not get the requisite amount of sleep are more likely to be overweight or depressed and engage in drinking, smoking or drug use.

“If you are better rested, there is increased student engagement and achievement,” said Eight Corners Principal Anne Lovejoy.

Alison Marchese, the director of special education, said just because start times at the high school and middle schools are pushed back doesn’t mean student would actually sleep in longer.

“Whatever the benefits are, they should be measurable and trackable,” said board member Chris Caiazzo.

Earlier this year the Maine Legislature debated LD 711 “An Act To Provide for a Later Starting Time for High School,” which would “require that, by September 1, 2017, each school administrative unit ensure its secondary schools’ school day start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and that there be at least 11 consecutive hours of uninterrupted time from the end of a class, extracurricular activity, athletic practice or any other school activity to the start of the next school day.”

That bill, which was proposed by Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick, never got the support it needed to pass.

Two chapters of Start School Later, a volunteer-led group advocating to push start times back, have started up in South Portland and Saco.

The solution is not as simple as switching the start times at the middle school and high school with those at the intermediate school and primary schools, in part because of bus runs. In fact, Scarborough Director of Activities/Athletics Mike LeGage said transportation is “one of the biggest factors.”

Other challenges, LeGage said, include gaining community understanding and support and not impacting after-school activities and athletics. There could also be an impact on parents getting their child to the bus stop or providing after-school or before-school care. Businesses that rely on high school students may also see an impact with a schedule change.

“If you bump everything ahead or back, depending on how you look at it, there is going to be an impact,” LeGage said.

Board member Kelly Murphy said in order to make the schedule change Scarborough may have to review the bus schedule.

Lovejoy said a change in Scarborough’s schedule could “impact educational opportunities outside Scarborough,” such as taking vocational classes at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center or Portland Arts and Technical High School.

Kelly Mullen-Martin, the principal at Blue Point and Pleasant Hill schools said before a recommendation could be made, the board of education and the school district’s leadership council must first decide if a schedule change is the right thing to do, if it is student-centered and if it is truly necessary.

Even if the answer to those three questions is yes, Mullen-Martin said the group need to determine if it is the right time to make such a change, which Entwistle said could “conceivably” be implemented for next school year.

Mullen-Martin said if it is determined changing the start times at the schools is the right thing to do, an implementation plan needs to be created so the public understands what the benefits are and why the district is making the change.

“If this is something the board decides it is worthwhile pursuing, maybe we throw this and the calendar together because they are somewhat related,” said board member Jackie Perry. “Perhaps we have a community dialogue on those two topics.”

Whether a change is made in Scarborough is undecided at this point, but Entwistle said, “the evidence is so compelling” the district can’t afford to ignore it.

He said for the change to be implemented in Scarborough, or anywhere else, “You need a critical mass to sign up on this. You can’t do it on your own.”

Perry said for the change to pass, it needs the support of more than just the school district’s superintendents. It needs the support of the school boards, parents and students as well.

“It’s good that we are willing to think outside the box because to get any sort of start on this, we need to really rethink everything,” Enwistle said.

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