The Winthrop School Department has begun considering whether classes should start later than they do now.

It’s a question that many school departments across the county have been asking in recent years, given that a great body of research points to the developmental and public health benefits for adolescents who sleep more and start class after 8:30 a.m.

In Maine — where the average school start time is 7:53 a.m., according to federal data — Winthrop is not alone in considering a later start for its students. A cluster of schools in southern Maine has already moved its start times to around 8:30 a.m., and other central Maine districts are starting to consider the question.

But there are many logistical challenges to starting school just an hour later, and the Winthrop Board of Education is taking its time before making any decisions, said Superintendent Gary Rosenthal.

The Board has surveyed parents, employees, students and residents about the concept. Some respondents opposed it or questioned its wisdom; others embraced it.

The Board has also formed a special committee of teachers, administrators and staff to outline programs that could be affected by the change, such as ice hockey teams that have limited access to rinks outside town, athletic coordinators who must schedule games with other schools and dining services that must plan meals long ahead of time.

Classes currently begin around 7:30 a.m. at Winthrop High School, and some students leave for a couple hours each day to take courses at Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. Those classes are offered at fixed times, and some teachers and administrators say a later start in Winthrop would prevent students from meeting all their academic requirements.

“Mornings aren’t exactly the best,” said Samantha Moody, a junior who takes culinary arts classes at the Technical Center and was leaving school Friday afternoon. “But (a later start) could mean I miss this amazing opportunity to go to a different school and get a certification.”

But, Moody added, she would welcome a later start time if the school district was able to find a workaround for students who want to go to the Technical Center.

A junior who takes construction classes at the Technical Center, Eli Bulba, was more wholehearted in his support for starting high school at 8:30 a.m.

“It’s pretty hard,” he said of the status quo. “I’d absolutely enjoy getting here at 8:30. I don’t get enough sleep.”

The Board of Education hopes to make a decision about a later start by next fall, Rosenthal said.

“I think it’s a pretty methodical process,” Rosenthal said. “I think if we do it right, it will help us come to some conclusions. By looking at every angle, we’re being as judicious as we can. Once we make a decision, the impact could be really widespread on people, the community and the way we do business.”

The six members of the Board of Education all have some experience as educators, Rosenthal said, and they’re considering the later start because of scientific research that has shown benefits for adolescents who get more sleep than the average high school student.

The recommended amount of sleep for adolescents is between 8.5 and 9.5 hours, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to allow students to get that sleep on school nights.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have associated insufficient sleep with poor academic performance and numerous health risks, including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and using drugs.

In Winthrop, some are already sold on the concept.

As a school bus driver in the Winthrop School Department, Gail Kennedy said she supports a later start time despite the logistical challenges it would present for the schools. For one thing, she said it would allow bus drivers — some of whom must start around 5:15 a.m. — to get to work a little later.

Kennedy also sees firsthand the different levels of energy students have early in the morning versus later in the day.

“They’re a lot quieter in the morning than they are in the afternoon — a few of them sleep,” she said. “I think (a later start) would be a good idea.”

But other stakeholders may resist the school department’s proposal.

One student who worries about a later start time is Cam Gaghan, a junior who plays football and baseball. A later start time would mean that games and practices start later, Gaghan said, and that would reduce the amount of daylight available to players.

“I’m pretty tired in the morning,” he said. “But I’d rather be tired in the morning than have to get out and do homework and sports later.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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