Cape Elizabeth High School students will get to sleep in an extra half-hour this fall, but they’re not happy about it.

“We want to stress how many students are against this,” junior Rosie Wennberg told the Cape Elizabeth School Board at its regular meeting April 8. “The students don’t want this to happen.”

According to Wennberg, about two-thirds of the 200 students who responded to a recent survey were against the time change.

That didn’t change the mind of the School Board, which, after hearing from more than a half-dozen students opposed to a later start time, voted unanimously to move the start of the school day from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Board members said they’re convinced that the change will be good for the students, even if the students don’t like it.

“It wasn’t about test scores, it wasn’t about comparing ourselves to anybody else … it’s about student learning,” board Chairman Kathy Ray said.

Students said they fear ending their day a half-hour later, as a result of the later start time, would cause conflicts with extra-curricular activities, make athletes miss more class time when they have to leave school to compete, inconvenience parents and teachers, make it more difficult for students to find after-school jobs, and end up making them stay up later to do homework.

“I feel like you’re overlooking our future,” sophomore Gabe Donahue told the board. “It’s affecting us the most. We’re advocating against it. Is there anyone here advocating for it?”

Six students, all student council members, attended the meeting to speak out against the proposed time change. The two student School Board representatives also spoke against it. No one in the audience spoke for it.

“Students voted 2-1 against this for a reason,” said School Board student representative Hudson Eakin. “The research is that our brains start working later as teenagers. But does starting school 30 minutes later make that much difference?”

School Board members have been considering a later school start time for months, citing studies showing teenagers learn better when they start school later. According to the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, medical research has shown that from the onset of puberty until the late teen years, the brain chemical melatonin, which is responsible for sleepiness, is secreted from approximately 11 p.m. until approximately 8 a.m. In other words, teenagers are still in sleep mode at 8 a.m., no matter what time they go to bed. Studies have also shown that about 20 percent of students sleep during the first two hours of school.

In Minnesota, when the Edina and Minneapolis school districts moved their start times to 8:30 and 8:40 a.m., respectively, a few years ago, the college said, there was a widespread improvement in student performance, including “a significant reduction in school dropout rates, less depression, and students reported earning higher grades.”

School Board members said the studies and their discussions with Edina officials convinced them that 7:30 a.m. is too early for Cape Elizabeth students to be starting school. They originally considered an 8:30 or 9 a.m. start time, but compromised on 8 a.m. due to various concerns, such as the impact on extracurriculars.

“As of several weeks ago I still wanted to start at 9,” board member Rebecca Millett said. “There’s really no right answer as far as I can see.”

Superintendent Alan Hawkins said the schools have to continue to evolve to provide the best education possible.

“We’re in the 21st century, and education is changing a lot,” he said. “We have a lot of students in Cape Elizabeth who score very high on testing. There are a lot of students who undoubtedly could be scoring higher.”

Some of those students, he said, could be the ones who benefit from starting school a half-hour later.

In the future, he said, Cape board members will need to start discussing whether the district needs longer school days and longer school years.


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