Rochester Public Schools officials are looking for ways to accommodate later start times for the district's middle and high school students.

A task force formed to study later start time strategies presented the school board with two options Tuesday night. The task force was impaneled after preliminary studies in 2018 of sharing busing with city transit came back with a $6 million price tag.

The task force began meeting nine months ago to find more cost-effective options to push middle and high school start times later.

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Currently, the start time for district high schools is 7:40 a.m. The first option presented to the board would shift that to 8:45 a.m. The second option would push the start time to 8 a.m.

However, later start times for middle and high school students would mean earlier start times for elementary school students or shorter or split lunch periods in order to release students no later than 3:15 p.m.

One option would add a minimum of 10 buses to the school routes.

"When you tweak one little thing, the trickle down effect changes everything else," said Scot Sherden, district director of operations and the task force member who presented the report to the board.

The 14-member task force plans to present the two options and the study that led to them to parents and the public for input, Sherden said.

The presentation to the board was informational, with no decisions made about either option.

Studies show that later start times can be beneficial for middle and high school students.

Buses used to transport students in multiple tiers — elementary, middle or high school — need about an hour between routes to be ready to run another route, Sherden said. That's why one of the options would require additional buses if some school start times move too close to others to use single buses for some routes.

Board member Melissa Amundsen asked why the options keep the release time around 3:10 to 3:15.

Jeff Whitney, district activities director, said a later release time would domino to later end times for school activities and sports. For activities like hockey, in which teams share public facilities, use of the facilities is limited to early afternoon. He noted that middle school students use high school facilities for activities. He said those facilities might not be available until after 8 p.m. if school dismissal is pushed back 45 minutes to an hour from current times.

Schleusner said the main mission of the district and the board is to ensure students receive a good education and that accommodating later start times fits that mission.

"Unless they're rested, we're not doing them justice," he said.

A 2014 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, identified insufficient sleep for adolescents as a “public health issue.”

A 2017 study published by the University of Minnesota based on a survey of 9,000 students from five school districts with varying start times found that those who started school later slept more overall. Students who slept more also had improved attendance and enrollment rates, reported better mental health status and were less likely to have substance abuse issues.

Public presentations of the options have not yet been scheduled.

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