SCARBOROUGH — Critics of a change in school start times are using an online petition to press school officials to reconsider before the changes take effect in the fall.

The change.org petition, signed by more than 550 people, contends there is a more balanced approach to be considered than the one that will have high school students starting at 8:50 a.m., middle school students at 9 a.m., and elementary school students at 8 a.m.

But School Board members and Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger said the plan will be implemented on the first day of school.

Classes at the high school now begin at 7:35 a.m. The middle school starts at 7:45 a.m., students in grades 3-5 start at 8:20 a.m., and kindergarten through second-graders start at 8:50 a.m.

Petitioners’ concerns include longer bus rides, earlier pickup times for young students, and the need for additional after-school care.

The School Board voted to implement the changes last April, after considering data that suggests high school students with later start times have reduced automobile accidents, truancy and absenteeism; improved mental health, and lower rates of substance use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Dr. Peter Amann, a Scarborough family practitioner with children in grades 7, 9 and 12, said data also that suggests later start times reduce obesity and produce higher attendance, among other benefits.

“It’s inconvenient, but there is dramatic evidence to support it,” Amann said.

Parent Sarah Crossman, who has children in first and fifth grades, said “This is a good shift. It honors the developmental needs of older students and younger students,” while the existing schedule doesn’t serve any population well.

She conceded there are constraints the town must deal with, including its size – 54 square miles – making transportation difficult. But she said change is inevitable and the town must focus on how to adapt. Crossman said challenges with before- and after-school care already exist, and the decision-making process was thoughtful, with adequate communication and information about meetings and discussions.

School Board Chairwoman Donna Beeley, a retired principal who taught primary school for nearly 40 years, said she is optimistic and hopeful the plan will work for all students in the district. She said the board was willing to give staff and parents a year and a half to prepare for the changes, and some logistics are still being worked out, including middle school athletic schedules, which will be impacted by later release times.

Scarborough will likely be the school with the latest release times in the state, according to Kukenberger.

Jillian Trapini, a petition signer and mother of four children, including a second-grader, said she started speaking against the changes when they were first proposed in 2015.

Although she supports a later start time for high school students, Trapini is concerned about how younger students will be affected, especially those who will be waiting for buses as early as 6:40 a.m. She said the board’s action was not thoughtful, and to her, seemed to garner only mediocre support that has created additional problems.

Trapini said the 50-minute change is too drastic for young students, and she would be more supportive of a 25- or 30-minute change. Trapini also said longer bus rides that will take a toll on children’s physical activity, and on family time and child-care arrangements.

She said some children may have 10-hour days that include school and after-school care.

“This is not an experiment,” Trapini said. “You can’t experiment with our children.”

Dr. Jennifer Jubulis, a pediatrician and mother of a first-grader, said she also supports a delayed high school start time, but said the changes to younger grades is something she cannot support. There are benefits for later start times for adolescents, but there is no hard data to support earlier times are beneficial to younger students, she said.

Jubulis said the board’s decision was made with the best of intentions, but the geographical makeup of the town makes bus pick-up times for younger students too early and reduces their sleep schedule, which can be detrimental to behavior and learning.

Read this story in The Forecaster.

Juliette Laaka can be contacted at 781-3661 ext., 106 or at:

[email protected]