Scarborough High School Principal David Creech high-fives a student at the high school on Monday morning, Feb. 26, 2018. Credit: Robbie Feinberg | Maine Public

Hundreds of students and parents flooded the sidewalks near Scarborough High School early Monday morning, protesting the resignation of the school’s principal, David Creech.

A lawyer for Creech announced today that he has rescinded his resignation and hopes to stay on, but controversy continues in the district around several policy issues.

As students returned from February vacation, many were up bright and early in Scarborough. Hundreds chanted near town hall, holding up signs with messages saying, “We do not accept your resignation, Mr. Creech.”

Creech resigned a few weeks ago with little explanation. Junior Claire Merill says she doesn’t want to see him go.

“He’s been kind of a figure that everyone knows, everyone sees in the hallways, and everyone really respects and admires,” she says. “So we’re out here to show our support for him. To show that we don’t want him to go, and that he’s done a great job as our principal.”

William Michaud, an attorney for Creech, now says his client has rescinded his resignation. But the circumstances surrounding his original resignation are still somewhat unclear.

Creech and school officials haven’t publicly discussed the reasons for his resignation. But Michaud says that in mid-February, Scarborough’s superintendent told Creech that he wasn’t a “good fit” and needed to resign, or she wouldn’t recommend his contract be renewed.

Michaud and members of the Scarborough community speculate that part of the decision was due to new policies that have sparked outcry in the district. Those include Scarborough’s implementation of proficiency-based education, as well as new school start times.

A new school calendar, approved by the Scarborough Board of Education earlier this month, would push middle and high school start times about an hour later next year, while elementary students would start school earlier.

“What I’m told is that he’s been nothing but supportive, publicly, of (the issues),” Michaud says. “But he has raised questions, as he should, for how some of these initiatives would affect Scarborough High School.”

Creech hasn’t voiced an opinion on the start time issue publicly, but it has clearly divided the community, and many parents and teachers have spoken out against it. Parents worry that elementary students could be put on buses as early as 7 a.m. under the new plan and are concerned about finding child care options.

Justin Stebbins, the head of Scarborough’s teachers union, read a letter at a recent school board meeting saying that members felt it wasn’t the right time to “implement this dramatic a shift in school start times.”

“Members are anxious about the impact of another partially realized plan that will create hardships for many involved,” Stebbins told the board at the meeting, on Feb. 15.

Alicia Giftos, a Scarborough parent who helped organize Monday’s protest, says Creech’s resignation was the last straw for her.

“What hasn’t occurred is a compromise implementation,” she says. “The fact that that’s what the faculty members were asking for — and that’s what got us here, with this forced resignation — I think that that’s outrageous.”

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend later start times for middle and high schools. And other area districts, including Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, pushed their high school start times later as part of a regional approach in 2016.

Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray wouldn’t comment specifically on the situation in Scarborough. But he says that in his own district, pushing start times later for middle and high schoolers two years ago required months of listening and responding to concerns from officials and parents.

“The research is so clear on this. It just needed to happen,” he says. “And we worked to make it happen with a great group of administrators and parents and community support who got behind this. And when we found an obstacle, we tried to figure out a way to solve it for everybody in the community.”

Ultimately, the changes in Biddeford and other districts were somewhat less drastic than in Scarborough. In Biddeford, the new school calendar only pushed back elementary school start times by 20-30 minutes as opposed to 50 minutes for some elementary students in Scarborough — though all of the districts, including Scarborough, still eyed elementary start times at about 8 a.m.

And school officials say that after almost two years with the new school schedule, they’ve seen positive results. In Biddeford, Ray says attendance was up last year, and the atmosphere in the morning is noticeably improved.

“Calm. Nicer. Positive,” Ray says. “I think that’s been something that’s been beneficial.”

In Scarborough, Creech high-fived his students on Monday as they walked into school after the protest. Creech wouldn’t comment on his employment situation, but he says he’s thankful for the support.

“I’m a little overwhelmed,” he says. “I really appreciate this. I love our students and staff. We have a great community, and I’m proud to be their principal.”

Scarborough’s superintendent and board chair didn’t respond to requests for comment. However, last week, both released separate statements saying that students were their primary focus.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.