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Rochester Public Schools starting over on start times plan

The school district has ping-ponged back and forth on the issue of start times for years, spanning at least two superintendent administrations and multiple iterations of the school board.

Rochester School Bus in Winter
Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — The issue of school start times is back on the radar for Rochester Public Schools as the district begins to delve into the implementation of its strategic plan.

The district has contracted with the Center for Effective School Operations to perform an audit of its transportation plan. The issue of transportation is tightly intertwined with start times since the drivers that transport elementary students also drive secondary students. That means the start times for elementary and secondary schools cannot be decided independently of each other.

"This is an issue that has been plaguing this district for decades," Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin said. "It is really frustrating."

The transportation audit will begin in January. The results will be reviewed in March by a team of principals and leaders in the district. That group will then present options to Superintendent Kent Pekel in "late May." That means the existing start times will remain for the duration of the school year.

The current school hours are 9:25 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. for elementary schools, from 8:10 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. for middle schools, and from 8:10 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. for high schools.

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The school district has ping-ponged back and forth on the issue of start times — also known as bell times — for years, spanning at least two superintendent administrations and multiple iterations of the school board.

The school board changed start times in November, 2020, and planned to implement those changes in the 2022-23 year. At that time, school board member, and now chairwoman, Jean Marvin said the conversation about start times had been ongoing for two decades or more.

Then in January, 2021, a new iteration of the school board voted to move up the implementation of the new start times to 2021-22 instead of a year later as planned.

The justification for changing the start times was to benefit the natural habits and schedules of secondary students.

However, a year later, in January 2022, the school board received overwhelming disapproval of the start times from the elementary school community, including both staff and parents. At the time, the district reported that 97% of the elementary school staff members disapproved of the changes.

So, district officials went back to the drawing board.

In May, the school board reviewed the results of a community survey which show conflicting opinions in regard to start times. As a stop-gap measure, the board tweaked the times , simply moving them by 10 minutes, resulting in the start times the district currently has.

"The recommendation I'm about to share is one that I'm not entirely satisfied with," Pekel said at the time, "because it doesn't solve the problem; it takes some steps in that direction."

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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