Deering High School seniors Colby Drabik, left, and Clementina Mongawalk walk up the stairs at the high school at the end of the school day on Monday. Both experienced the earlier school start time as freshmen and say that the later school start time is hugely beneficial. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Clementina Monga has no trouble being alert and ready to learn when her first class begins at 8:30 a.m. at Deering High School. But that wasn’t always the case.

As a freshman, Monga sometimes struggled to stay awake in Mr. LeGage’s Earth and Space class, which started promptly at 8 a.m.

“One time he was talking and I was dozing off, and he rapped on my desk and said, ‘Clementina!’ to wake me up,” the 18-year-old senior recalled. “I said ‘I’m sorry, it’s too early.”

Even though public health experts agree that starting school before 8:30 a.m. is too early for high school students, many high schools in Maine start between 7 and 8 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend an 8:30 a.m. start time because the teenage brain’s natural rhythm is to stay up later and wake up later when compared to elementary school students.

That consensus led Portland’s high schools and middle schools to push back starting times in the 2021-22 school year, joining a growing national trend. Portland’s high schools shifted the start time from 8 to 8:20 a.m., although some classes start at 8:30, and Portland’s middle schools shifted from 7:45 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. High schools in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, South Portland, Yarmouth, Cumberland and elsewhere also made their start times later.

It’s not clear how many Maine schools have joined the trend so far, but a proposal in the Maine Legislature could soon mandate later start times statewide.


Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, has introduced a bill that would mandate an 8:30 a.m. start time for all high schools, although she also said she would be willing to compromise if the end result is more schools shifting to a later start time. One compromise could be a mandated time of 8 a.m. and a recommended start time of 8:30 a.m., or perhaps waivers for certain schools that can demonstrate logistical hardships.

For example, some schools that have already shifted to later start times did not change to the recommended 8:30 a.m. start. Portland high schools, for example, officially start at 8:20. South Portland shifted from a 7:25 a.m. start to 8:10 a.m. in 2016. Yarmouth and Greely high schools moved the start time back to 8 a.m.

Shifting to later start times raises logistical challenges related to after-school sports and extra-curricular activities, such as limited daylight for outdoor sports practices. The changes also can lead to busing problems for districts that cover large geographical areas. And later dismissal times for high schools can create problems for parents who rely on their high-school-aged children to look after younger siblings while parents are still at work.

Daughtry said California has mandated 8:30 a.m. start times for high schools this school year and school districts there have been able to work around logistical issues. But she also said she wants to hear “compromises or creative solutions.”


Several other bills Daughtry introduced in recent years to mandate later start times have failed. The Maine School Superintendents Association has opposed the statewide mandate, arguing that the logistical problems would be too difficult to overcome in some districts.


But Daughtry believes it can be done and that the public health benefits of later start times are too important to ignore.

“We have this continuing rise in poor outcomes for teen mental health,” Daughtry said. “One of the top suggestions psychologists always say is to get a good night’s sleep, so to me starting later is an easy return on investment. As adults, we really need to step up to the plate.”

The scientific case behind starting school later for high school students is indisputable, according to the CDC, with benefits to students that include improved performance and reduced use of drugs and alcohol. Early start times are correlated with increased risk of depression and obesity, and more frequent car crashes with drowsy students driving to school.

Because a teenager’s brain is developing and different than an adult brain, 7 a.m. for a teen is equivalent to 4 a.m. for an adult, according to the U.S. CDC.

Deering High School seniors Clementina Monga, left, and Colby Drabik stand in a walkway at the school on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Colby Drabik, also a Deering High School senior, said he never actually fell asleep in the first class as a freshman. But he often was bleary-eyed and he doesn’t believe he learned as much in his freshman AP Geography class as he would have if school had started later, as it does now.

“I appreciate the extra time in the morning. It gives me some time to mentally get ready for the day,” Drabik said. If he has a late night doing homework, he can still make it to bed at a reasonable time and be alert the next day, he said.


Deering High School also moved its advisory period – similar to homeroom – to the beginning of the school day rather than after the first class. That way, when students are a few minutes late, they are not missing any instructional time.

The most recently updated U.S. CDC report says Maine’s average high school start time in 2015 was 7:53 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than the national average of 8:03 a.m. Many Maine schools have switched to later times since that report, although there is no current data about school start times statewide.


While some schools are able to adopt later high school start times, the logistical barriers are “insurmountable” for others, especially rural school districts, said Debra McIntyre, executive director of the Maine Curriculum Leaders Association.

“We believe that the school schedule – which includes start and end times – should continue to be a matter for each district’s school board to decide,” McIntyre said during a recent public hearing on the bill before the Legislature’s Education Committee. “Local control allows districts to accommodate the needs of their families and communities based on the unique requirements of their region.”

Scarborough schools became embroiled in a controversy in 2018 when school leaders attempted to flip the start times so that elementary school students would have started at 8 a.m., and the high school at 8:50 a.m. Parents objected, pointing out that some families relied on older students to look after elementary school students after school, and that high school students arriving home later would disrupt those plans. The district scrapped that plan but did end up shifting start times at the high school from 7:35 a.m. to 8 a.m.


Eileen King, deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association, which represents superintendents and school boards, also testified against the bill.

“Starting school later would take away time from the end of the day, when many students are engaged in after-school activities, including participation in after-school clubs, which is an important part of school life,” King said during the hearing.

Alyson Dame, co-principal at Deering, said in an interview that the later school day – students are now dismissed at 2:50 p.m. – has required some juggling of athletics and there are days when outdoor practices end at dusk. And, she said, the shift in times hasn’t eliminated problems such as tardiness and absenteeism.

But the school has made it work, Dame said, and the benefits outweigh any negatives. “Students are less groggy and more willing to engage with learning at the start of the day.”

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