2018-09-14 / Front Page

School district releases start options

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — After more than a year of research, an RSU 21 study committee has announced a series of five options for earlier start times at schools, which it will soon begin shopping to parents, teachers, students and community members, in hopes of pin-pointing a consensus favorite.

Exploring the possibility of earlier start times was a key element of the district’s 2016 strategic plan. If it follows through and adopts one of the proposals, RSU 21 will join a trend that has seen many area districts push back the traditional start of the school day by as much as an hour.

A committee survey found that 32 percent of school districts in York and Cumberland counties have implemented, or are currently considering, later start times.

“Overwhelming evidence shows that a later start time is better for our older students,” reads the committee report, released Sept. 6 by Assistant Superintendent Phillip Potenziano.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that prepubescent and adolescent children get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night. However, it also recognizes that due to the change in circadian rhythms during adolescence, youngsters naturally fall asleep later.

Currently, classes start at 7:30 a.m. at Middle School of the Kennebunks, 7:45 a.m. at Kennebunk High School, and at 8:15 a.m. at all four district elementary schools. Potenziano notes, it is not unusual for students of any age to be out as soon as 6:25 a.m. waiting for the school bus to arrive.

“This means that our early school start time significantly impacts the total amount of sleep our older children get,” the committee report reads. “It is also recommended that younger children get 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. So, changing the school start time can also potentially impact the total amount of sleep out elementary children get.”

“However, responding to this problem doesn’t come without challenges,” Potenziano says. “The committee has been examining some of these, which include bus transportation, impacts on after-school activities, parents’ work schedules and shared educational opportunities with schools that continue to start early. Some solutions to these challenges may have budget implications and need to the input and consideration of the community.”

Feedback forums on the committee report, available on the district website — www.rsu21.net/business/ school-start-committee — will start with middle school and high school staffers on Oct. 10. Elementary teachers will get their own forum on Nov. 7. Students, meanwhile, will be polled for their thoughts during advisory and team block times throughout October.

For parents and others in the three district towns — Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel — the chance to have their say will come at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, at Kennebunk Elementary School.

Options on the table include

 Starting classes at 8:05 a.m. and ending at 2:35 p.m. at the middle school and high school, while the day would run from 8:55 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. at the elementary schools.

Late start Wednesdays would be eliminated in favor of dismissing classes an hour early at all schools every Wednesday.

This option does not meet pediatric recommendations of an 8:30 a.m. start time for grades 6-12, but would align with school start times for some other local school districts, have no impact on transportation costs, and still mean no student would need to be at a bus stop before 7 a.m.

 Setting an 8:30 a.m. to 2:56 p.m. school day at the middle school and high school, with a late start of 9:45 a.m. on Wednesdays, and from 7:40 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. at the elementary schools, with early release at 11:30 a.m. on one Wednesday per month.

This option does meet pediatric recommendations. Some athletic activities and after-school clubs would be impacted. Field trips would most often get back in time for students to take the late bus, which would be moved to 5:15 p.m.

 Running from 8:30 a.m. to 2:56 p.m. school day at the middle school and high school, with a late start of 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the elementary schools, with early release at 12:30 p.m. on one Wednesday per month.

This one has similar opportunities and challenges to the previous option. However, no elementary student would get on a bus before 8:20 a.m, which would allow local road crews more time to clear roads on snowy days

 Setting the school day at 8:40 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. at the middle school and high school, with a late start of 9:55 a.m. on Wednesdays, and from 7:50 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. at the elementary schools, with early release at 11:30 a.m. on one Wednesday per month.

For this option, some elementary students may be at the bus stop before 7 a.m. However, the committee notes that evidence from some studies support earlier start times as more appropriate for younger students.

 And finally, a day of 8:40 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. at the middle school and high school with a late start of 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, and from 9:40 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. at the elementary schools, with early release at 12:30 p.m. on one Wednesday per month.

With this option, fewer families may need after-school care for elementary school children. As with other options that start high school classes at this time, there would be conflicts for students who attend the Sanford Regional Technical Center, as they generally need to leave high school by 7:20 a.m.

“These proposals will be subject to public discussion over the coming months,” Potenziano said. “In addition, the community may also discuss keeping school start times the same as they are.

“Finalized proposals will be presented to the school board in December, with a view to commencing any changes in September 2019,” Potenziano said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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