Portland high school and middle school students will get to sleep a little under new school start and end times that will take effect when classes start in the fall. And even later start times may be in the works for the 2022-23 school year.

The Portland Board of Public Education voted this week to adjust the start and end times for students at Portland High School, Deering High School, Casco Bay High School and for the district’s three middle schools.

The 2021-22 schedule will have middle and high school students starting at 8:20 a.m., instead of 7:45 a.m. and 8 a.m. respectively, as they did before the pandemic. They will leave school at 2:50 p.m., according to a district news release. Before the pandemic, middle school classes ended at 2:15 p.m. and the high schools let out at 2:30 p.m.

The changes were made in anticipation of a full return to school in the fall, ending the hybrid learning schedule that students have followed since March 2020.

Hybrid start and end times varied during the past year. Middle schoolers started at 9:45 a.m. under the hybrid model, according to the district. Most high school classes did not start before 9 a.m.

In addition, board members passed a resolution committing the district to working to make secondary school start times consistent with scientific research that shows students’ health and learning benefit from later start times and additional sleep.

“I’m thrilled that we have taken this step to start to align our start times with the science on adolescent development,” Board Chair Emily Figdor said. “It’s long overdue and will have a big impact on everything from students’ ability to learn to their mental health and well-being. I know we’re asking a lot of families who will need to adjust schedules and logistics, but the benefits to our older students really do justify it.”

Figdor said the board has not ruled out setting even later start times for middle and high school students in the 2022-23 school year. The new plan will not affect the Portland Arts and Technology High School schedule. PATHS will retain its existing 8-10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. schedule.

Most elementary schools will see only minor changes as a result of the board’s decision. Some elementary schools, such as East End and Longfellow, will revert to a 7:40 a.m. start time compared to the 8:20 a.m. start before the pandemic.

Board members said in the resolution that they are committed to bringing the district’s secondary students up to standards set by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Sleep Foundation, which all conclude that adolescents on average need nine hours of sleep per night for optimal performance, health and brain development. Those organizations have determined that most teens experience delayed sleep onset during puberty, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. or to be alert before 8 a.m.

Research also has shown there are benefits from later middle and high school start times that may include decreases in teen depression, car crashes, behavior problems, disciplinary issues, absenteeism, tardiness and dropout rates, the board’s resolution states.

Superintendent Xavier Botana and board members indicated this week that moving middle and high school students to 8:20 a.m. start times could be the first step toward adopting even later start times.

Board members directed Botana to present them with options for middle and high school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and for starting elementary school students no earlier than 8 a.m. Botana will research the impact of moving start times on transportation, co-curricular activities, work and child care, as well as the financial implications.

Botana, who also has been asked to engage the school community on the evidence supporting later start times, will have until April 22, 2022, to report back to the board with his findings, before the board adopts the school calendar for the 2022-23 school year.

Changing start times is not a new issue in Portland. The school board in 2015 began an effort to move to later start times for all schools, but because of turnover in district leadership the effort was never completed.


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