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97% of Rochester's elementary school staff members disapprove of new start times

The School Board last voted on bell times in January 2021 after years of discussion.

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Students arrive at Riverside Central Elementary School for the first day of school Monday morning, Aug. 30, 2021, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The Rochester School Board has once again brought the issue of school start times back to the table for discussion following overwhelming disapproval from the elementary schools.

During a study session on Tuesday, Jan. 25, the board heard from two consultants, who gave an overview of recent survey results, showing how parents and staff members feel about the current start times.

The board approved the district's current start times in January 2021.

"There's significant agreement that the shift in school start times for our secondary schools was a positive one," said Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel. "And there's significant concern about our current elementary school start times."

Currently, the school day lasts from 9:35 a.m. to 4 p.m. for elementary students, from 8:20 a.m. to 3 p.m. for middle school students and from 8:20 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for high school students.

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According to the survey results, 97% of the comments from elementary school staff members about the start times were negative. Among the same group, 2.3% of the comments were mixed, meaning only 0.7% of the comments about the start times from elementary staff members were positive.

"That's a remarkable number," said Kyla Wahlstrom, a researcher who contracted with the district on the survey.

Although not quite as one-sided as the staff members, the opinions of elementary school parents also showed a strong aversion to the new start times. Per the survey, 78% of the comments from parents about the start times were negative.

Both elementary school parents and staff members provided a lot of the same reasons for their disapproval. One of the main themes, according to Wahlstrom's presentation, was that starting elementary school at 9:35 a.m. is a waste of hours when students are alert and active and that they begin to shut down later in the afternoon.

Another prominent theme was that the new elementary school hours interfere with staff members' personal time with their families.

Several board members spoke about the length of time that went into studying the start time change as well as how the process could have missed so many voices from the elementary school community.

"It was surprising, I think, to a lot of us that at that time there wasn't a whole lot of input from the elementary folks," Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin said. "People say the decision was made because of secondary students, and I think they're right because we simply didn't hear much on the other side."

Opinions about the start times were more mixed among staff members of the older grades. Among middle school staff members, 39% of the comments about the start times were positive, 5% were negative, and 56% were neutral.

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Among high school staff members, 37% of the comments about the start times were positive, 23% were negative, and 40% were neutral.

Pekel said that in order to move forward with changes to the start times, the district should undertake a cost analysis, as well as send out another survey about proposed changes.

"I would absolutely at this point agree that the board needs to reconsider the start times," Marvin said.

Start Times Study Summary by inforumdocs on Scribd

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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