Why is RSU 21 discussing a later school start time for middle and high school?
The RSU 21 School Board of Directors requested the issue of school start times be examined. This issue was raised in RSU 21 during our 2015 Strategic Planning Process and a committee has been studying this since 2017. In 2018, local pediatricians asked the RSU 21 School Board to make this issue a priority. Research suggests adolescents who start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. are less likely to be overweight, suffer from depressive symptoms, and engage in unhealthy behaviors. The study also found that these adolescents perform better on standardized testing. The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have taken the position that a healthy school start time begins no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for teenagers.
Why 8:30 a.m. for middle and high school?
Biologically, puberty impacts the brain’s production of melatonin. Realistically, teenagers fall asleep about 2 hours after their childhood or adult bedtimes, often around 11:00 p.m. They are recommended to have 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night, and have trouble waking up before 8:00 a.m.
What about elementary-aged students?
Students in grades Pre K-5 need 9-13 hours of sleep per night. For these students, research shows that beginning school earlier than 8:00 a.m. will impact sleep duration and lead to issues with retention of information, attention, behavior, obesity, and lower academic performance.
Why would start times be impacted across all grade levels?
This is due to transportation. Like many school districts, RSU 21 needs two bus runs to get all 2,700 students to school and return them all home. Currently, 31 school buses / vans pick up students in grades 6-12 and bring them to school. The same buses / vans and drivers then go to pick up and drop off students in grades Pre K-5. The committee reviewed the bus routes with our transportation software company and, when all goes smoothly and the weather is good, it takes 55 minutes to complete the first run before beginning the second run.
How have other Maine districts managed this?
The districts that have changed school start times are smaller geographically than RSU 21. They are able to begin elementary school at 8:00 a.m. and middle and high school at 8:30 a.m. because they are smaller and only need 30 minutes between runs. RSU 21 is 117 square miles. Area schools that have successfully changed start times are in districts with the following in square miles: Saco - 52, Biddeford - 59, South Portland, - 14, Old Orchard - 22.
Would adding more buses shorten the time between elementary and secondary runs?
Our analysts at Transfinder have advised that we can shorten the time between runs by approximately 5 minutes for each additional bus and driver. To get to 30 minutes between runs, we would likely need to purchase 5-6 buses and hire 5-6 more bus drivers. Each bus and driver costs about $152,000 per year.
How would sports be impacted by some of these scenarios.
Any option that ends middle and high school after 2:40 p.m. will impact fall sports, likely eliminating 7th grade soccer and field hockey, high school JV soccer and field hockey, golf, cross country, and swimming. This is due to the time that it gets dark in the fall and our access to pool time. Many schools that we compete against do not have lights on their fields. We only have lights on the Alumni Field at KHS. We are unable to over-play that field because it is grass and will become unsafe if over used.
How can we mitigate the impact on sports?
For home games, we could consider lighting the two sub-varsity fields along Fletcher Street. This would cost about $1 million and need to go through the town permitting processes. Another option would be to revisit the proposal to turf Alumni field for around $2 million. Either or both options would assist with maintaining sports but not resolve the issue of “away” games.
Would there be a loss of instructional time when our students need to leave for away games?
Yes. On average, our students would miss 3 hours of instructional time during fall sports if the high school starts at 8:30 or 8:40. Additionally, many teachers also coach. Those teachers would need to be removed from the classroom early and coverage provided for those classes.
Would a change impact traffic patterns in town?
The Town of Kennebunk has studied traffic patterns on Fletcher Street and found that 8-9 a.m. and 4-5 p.m. are the busiest times due to commuters getting on and off the highway. Student and parent drivers entering and exiting KHS at those times will impact traffic flow by adding to it at peak travel times.
Would a change impact local businesses?
Many local businesses employ our students and staff as part time employees. If high school ends later, local businesses will have less access to these employees during the week.
If elementary schools end at 2:10 or 2:20 p.m., will after care be available? What about before care if elementary schools start at 9:30 or 9:40 a.m.?
RSU 21 will certainly work with the Town Recreation Departments to share concerns over the need for before or after care. Ultimately, it would be those departments and/or local daycares that would offer those services for a cost.
If elementary schools start at 7:40 a.m., what time would elementary students be at bus stops? How about if the day ends at 4:10 p.m.?
A start time of 7:40 a.m. would have our earliest stops at 6:50 a.m. An ending time of 4:10 p.m. would have our later bus drop offs after 5:15 p.m.
What about the “Late Bus”?
We would intend to continue late buses. The late bus would be moved later to allow students to access after school clubs and activities.
What happens to students who attend the Sanford Regional Technical Center for vocational high school?
Those students would still need to arrive at KHS by 7:10 a.m. to travel to Sanford and begin at 7:50 a.m. Sanford, and the other 6 districts who send students there are not changing school start times. Eleventh graders would still attend the KHS morning session and have a longer day than their peers. Twelfth graders would start school later at KHS and attend the afternoon session, arriving back earlier than the end of the day.
FMI: Visit our website www.rsu21.net and click the top center link or attend our forum on 10/29/18 at 6 p.m. at KES