Students at Old Orchard Beach High School leave at the end of the school day on Wednesday.

Students at Old Orchard Beach High School leave at the end of the school day on Wednesday.

BIDDEFORD — Teenagers and tweens, you can now sleep in a little longer on school days. Beginning this fall, that is.

At a joint meeting Wednesday night at the Pepperell Mill, the Saco, Biddeford and Dayton school boards all voted to move the start times for middle and high schools to 8:30 a.m. or later. Representatives from Thornton Academy in Saco said the school would also adjust its times.

The later start times align with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection that state teenagers should begin their school day at 8:30 a.m.

Under the new schedule, Biddeford High School will begin at 8:35 a.m. instead of the current 7:45 a.m., and Biddeford Middle School will begin at 8:40 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m.

Saco Middle School will begin at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m. Thornton Academy Headmaster Rene Menard said the private school, which educates public school students in middle and high school, would shift its start time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Because Dayton does not have its own middle school or high school, Dayton students in those grade levels can attend schools in Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Saco, including Thornton Academy Middle School.

In the past, many areas moved start times earlier for high school and middle school to accommodate bussing. Advocates for a later start to the school day say teenagers who wake up early to catch a bus and get to school by 7:30 a.m. are going against their biological clocks.

Saco school physician Joan Pelletier said melatonin production in teenagers begins at 10 p.m. and ends at 9 a.m. Sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, anxiety, depression and risky behaviors, she said.

“We’re asking them to wake up far earlier than is healthier for them,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier cited a University of Minnesota sleep study that found one Wyoming town had a 70 percent decrease in teenage car accidents after the local high school switched to a later start.

“That’s not a coincidence,” she said.

The new schedule will not affect school sports, Pelletier said, but will eliminate some of the lag time between the end of the school day and the start of sports activities.

Saco School Board Chairman Kevin Lafortune called the move “a step in the right direction.” As a parent of two, he said, “the transition from fifth to sixth grade was miserable.”

Biddeford School Committee Member Crystal Blais said she was against the change because it would put a financial strain on families who would need to arrange for child care in the mornings.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said that as a former Biddeford High School teacher who had first-hand experience teaching teenagers, he agreed with the research that supported a later school start.

Later start times for schools is trending in Maine.

Old Orchard Beach moved its high school start time to 8 a.m. from 7:30 a.m. this past year. Regional School Unit 23, which covers Old Orchard Beach, will discuss aligning its school times to the CDC recommendations at tonight’s School Board meeting, and will vote on the matter at a later date.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]

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