December 16, 2018
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Maine schools consider later start times to let students sleep

Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star
Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star
Kennebunk High School Principal Sue Cressey descends a staircase at the school in this York County Coast Star file photo. The school district is considering later start times at its schools in an effort to allow students to sleep longer in the mornings.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Over the past year, Kennebunk’s School Start Time Exploratory Committee — made up of district faculty, staff, parents, students, community members and school board members — has been exploring the issue of later school start times for grades six through 12.

The committee rolled out five draft proposals last week on social media and the district website so parents can review them and give feedback ahead of community forums that will begin in October.

A number of area school districts, including Biddeford and Saco, have implemented later start times for older students based on research that shows a later school start time leads to better learning, academic performance, improved attendance and higher test scores and graduation rates. According to a district survey conducted this year, 32 percent of York and Cumberland county schools have either changed to a later start time or are considering the change.

[Maine school district plans later start times for teens, but some parents are against it]

During Monday’s meeting of the Regional School Unit 21 board of directors Superintendent Katie Hawes said that there are really six options, with the possibility of making no changes to the district schedule, however “overwhelming evidence shows that a later school start time is better for our older students,” the committee notes on the district website.

“Responding to this problem doesn’t come without challenges. The committee has been examining some of these, which include bus transportation, impact on after-school activities, elementary school start times, parents’ work schedules and shared education with schools continuing to start early. Some solutions to these challenges may have budget implications and need the input and consideration of the community,” the committee website reads.

Each draft proposal has different start and end times for sixth through 12th grade and kindergarten through fifth grade, and each one makes an adjustment to the district’s late start Wednesdays, or switches it to an early release. Any change comes with pros and cons, and the committee is looking to find one that is supported by the majority of the community.

School start time proposed options:

The five proposed options are summarized as follows:

Option 1 offers a start time of 8:05 a.m. for grades six through 12 and 8:55 a.m. for all elementary grades, with an early release slated for every Wednesday at 1:35 p.m. for grades six through 12 and 2:25 p.m. for elementary grades. This option does not align with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of an 8:30 a.m. start for sixth through 12th grades, but it does allow extended sleep time and no student would be at the bus stop before 7 a.m., the committee notes.

Option 2A would have grades six through 12 starting at 8:30 a.m. and all elementary grades at 7:40 a.m. Middle School of the Kennebunks and Kennebunk High School would have a late start Wednesday beginning at 9:45 a.m., and all elementary schools would have an early release Wednesday once per month with students dismissed at 11:30 a.m. This option does align with the recommendation of an 8:30 a.m. or later start time for students in grades six through 12. With an earlier elementary start time, working parents may be able to take their kids to the bus stop on into school, however more parents may need access to after school care, the committee notes.

[Letting teens sleep in would save the country roughly $9 billion per year]

Option 2B offers the same schedule as 2A for grades six through 12, but proposes a school day of 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for all elementary grades, with one early release Wednesday per month, dismissing students at 12:30 p.m. This schedule aligns with the Biddeford schools, and offers all grades extended sleep time, but would impact some after school activities, and some students would be arriving home after dark during the winter months, the committee notes.

Option 3A and 3B have MSK and KHS students at school from 8:40 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. with late start Wednesday every week beginning at 9:55 a.m. Option 3A has elementary grades starting at 7:50 a.m. and ending at 2:20 p.m. with a once a month early release Wednesday dismissing at 11:30 a.m.

Option 3B pushes the elementary start time out to 9:40 a.m., with dismissal at 4:10 p.m. and a once a month early release Wednesday dismissing at 12:30 p.m.

With the four options under 2 and 3, the late bus at MSK and KHS would be moved to 5:15 p.m. allowing for more students to take advantage of the late bus.

Another advantage to later start times would be realized in the winter months, when road crews would have more time to clear the roads from snow storms, the committee found.

[More Maine schools are opting for later morning start times]

With so many different challenges involved in making a decision, Hawes said she hopes parents will get involved now. In order to implement changes for the 2019-20 school year, a final proposal recommendation will have to be brought to the school board in December, Hawes said.

“We are really encouraging people to pay attention and understand the complexity of this, and let us know what you’re thinking, we’re looking for feedback,” Hawes said Monday.

Community and parent forum

A community and parent forum on school start times will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29 in the KES gymnasium.This forum will be recorded and will be available at Townhallstreams.com and posted on the RSU 21 website.

Staff forums

Staff at MSK and KHS will have a chance to offer feedback at a forum at 7:25 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the KHS cafeteria. A forum for all elementary staff in the district will be held at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7 in the KES Gym.

Students in grades six through 12 will have a chance to offer their feedback during their advisory or team blocks.

For more information, and to read the full draft proposals, go to www.rsu21.net and click on the School Start Time Committee banner at the top of the homepage.

For more coverage of Regional School Unit 21, visit seacoastonline.com.

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