Residents discuss start time changes for Marshwood schools

By John Doyle  Feb 6, 2019   

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — The public had a chance to weigh in on a proposal to shift school start times at Marshwood Middle Schooland Marshwood High School to allow students to get more sleep.

A number of people spoke at a public hearing on the issue before Wednesday night’s meeting of the Maine School Administrative District (MSAD) 35 School Board. Another public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27.

An ad-hoc committee last year narrowed the district’s options to three — flipping the grade-school and middle-school schedules, which would create a start time of 8:30 a.m. for the middle and high schools; a “middle-ground” approach that would see start times for the middle and high schools shift to about 20 minutes later; and maintaining the status quo.

The committee has since chosen not to recommend the first option — to flip the grade-school and middle-school schedules — after a survey of faculty, students and families showed a lack of support for that option, according to a handout provided to attendees of Wednesday night’s public hearing.

Resident Virginia Wilson said she supported an 8:30 start time for the high school, even if that interfered with after-school activities such as athletics.

“I love sports, but I do feel like that’s sort of a secondary concern,” Wilson said.

The committee recommended any change be in line with what it defined as “core values” — preserve instructional and collaborative planning time; avoid all ages of students riding school buses together; and maintaining extracurricular opportunities for students.

Currently, some MSAD 35 middle- and high-school students board buses as early as 6:15 a.m. A later start time would be more in sync with older students’ natural sleep cycles, according to research provided by the ad-hoc committee on the MSAD 35 website.

George Taran questioned if allowing students to sleep an extra 20 minutes will have much of an effect on their well being.

“If you give a teenager 20 minutes extra sleep, a lot of them are going to stay up an hour later,” Taran said. “I think it’s a great idea to get more sleep — I want more sleep — I don’t know if they’re going to get more sleep if it’s pushed back 20 minutes.”

Megan Cleary of South Berwick was against a change in start times, saying overburdened schedules were the reason students lack proper sleep.

“They’re coming home, they’re doing after-school activities, they’re doing sports, they’re not having any (free) time, and that’s what’s keeping them up,” Cleary said. “Maybe if they didn’t have the homework, they could go to bed at a reasonable time and still get that sleep without changing the whole schedule.”

Locally, the Oyster River and Portsmouth school districts in New Hampshire recently changed their start times for high schools to 8:15 and 8:20 a.m., respectively. Dover’s school board considered such a move in 2015 before ultimately opting to maintain the status quo.

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