A legislative committee voted Wednesday against three measures that would require schools to give students 30-minute lunch periods, start high school classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and provide recess for middle school students.

Instead, committee members supported a bill that would create a working group to examine how to better structure the school day.

Students at Old Orchard Beach High School check their phones after eating lunch on Thursday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The proposed working group would consist of parents, teachers, school administrators and members of the Maine Department of Education. The panel could form as early as this summer, and the department would issue recommendations by February.

State Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, and co-chair of the committee, said the idea is to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the school day, including how long it should be, when it should start, and how much time should be given for lunch, recess and other activities.

The proposal will now go to the full Legislature.

“We are very supportive of the state moving in this direction,” said Anna Korsen, advocacy and implementation director for Full Plates Full Potential, who had testified earlier on a bill to extend school lunch periods. “We hope that this study will take a comprehensive look at how to move research driven strategies forward that support students while also addressing the challenges and concerns shared by school administrators.”


Advocates argue that later start times and longer lunch periods for high school students are rooted in sound science and would improve student health. But school administrators said different schools have different needs and decisions such as these should be made locally.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, sponsored a bill that would require some high schools to push back start times to 8:30 a.m.

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. Unlike adults or elementary school students, the brains of teenagers are wired to stay up later and wake up later, which means simply going to bed earlier is not an effective solution.

California mandated an 8:30 a.m. start time for high schools starting in the 2022-23 school year.

It’s not clear exactly how many districts start earlier because it hasn’t been tracked, but many have followed the science and shifted to later start times, although not all at 8:30 a.m. Portland’s high schools now start at 8:20 a.m., and South Portland High starts at 8:10 a.m. High schools that have changed to an 8:30 a.m. start time include Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Thornton Academy.

But shifting to later start times raises logistical challenges related to after-school sports and extra-curricular activities, such as reducing available 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-age children to look after younger siblings while parents are still at work.


Later start times have been studied numerous times, and researchers have found that benefits include improved school performance, reduced use of drugs and alcohol, and lower rates of depression and obesity. Early start times have also been linked to more frequent car crashes with drowsy students driving to school.

Because a teenager’s brain is still developing, 7 a.m. for a teen is equivalent to 4 a.m. for an adult, according to the federal CDC.

Extending school lunch periods also causes logistical problems for some districts.

Maine’s decision to provide free school lunches to all students has resulted in the unintended consequence of longer lunch lines because fewer students pack lunch from home. The Maine education department is reporting a 16% increase in the number of students who eat a school-made lunch. But with some schools limiting lunch periods to 20 minutes or less, some students don’t have enough time to eat.

“Now that meals are free for all students, we must work to make sure they have enough time to actually eat them,” said Korsen, from Full Plates Full Potential, during testimony before the committee this month.

The bill to mandate 30 minutes for lunch would allow districts to opt out if they could cite logistical difficulties.


Holly Blair, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association’s professional division, told the committee earlier that giving students 30-minute lunches would be a problem for some districts.

Some schools have combination cafeteria/gymnasiums, requiring setup and take-down times that schools with separate cafeterias don’t have to deal with. Some schools with large student bodies would have to start serving lunch at 10:30 a.m. if they gave everyone a 30-minute lunch.

Some school leaders report that staff have to handle behavioral problems during the last 10 minutes of a 30-minute lunch period, Blair said.

“We should trust the professionals putting the schedules together to best meet the needs of their kids,” Blair said.

A third proposal would have required a 20-minute recess for students in grades 6-8. Some schools do not set aside recess time for middle school students.

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