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Rochester Public Schools to change start times in 2021-22

The move is a reversal of a previous board decision, which would have waited until 2022-23.

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Rochester Public Schools
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The Rochester School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a change to the implementation of its new start times for schools, reversing an earlier decision.

According to the board's latest decision, the new start times will begin in 2021-22, rather than 2022-23.

Newly elected board member Karen MacLaughlin brought the issue back to table at the Jan. 5 meeting, her first as a school board member.

"This has been an issue that's been discussed for years and years," she said. "I think it's really, really important to the community to implement this change sooner rather than later."

According to the new plan, the school day will last from 8:20 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for high school students, 8:20 a.m. to 3 p.m. for middle school students, and 9:35 a.m. to 4 p.m. for elementary school students.

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Before the pandemic, school would have started at 9:05 or 9:10 a.m. for elementary students, depending on the building. It would have started at 7:40 a.m. for middle school and high school students.

MacLaughlin said one of the benefits of the pandemic is that it has allowed students extra time to sleep. Going back to the old start times in 2021-22 only to switch again a year later would have been jarring, she said.

"(It) has given our secondary students more time to sleep according to their biological clocks rather than a bell time in their schools buildings," she said. "I think it's just best for students and their parents."

The board initially approved the new start times and the implementation of those start times during its Nov. 17 meeting. At the time, however, there was some initial disagreement among board members.

The original proposal in November indicated the new start times would start in 2021-22. During the meeting, the board amended the resolution, pushing it back a year. The vote to amend the resolution was split with a 4-3 vote. Once the decision to amend the resolution had been made, however, the board voted unanimously at the time to approve it.

Since the School District is in the process of constructing two new schools, pushing the implementation of the start times back a year was seen as a way to avoid redrawing bus routes two years in a row.

Two of the board members who voted on the issue in November have since been replaced.

Following that November meeting, a group of parents rose up, asking the board to revisit the issue. A petition prompting the board to do so garnered 258 signatures.

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Don Barlow was one of the board members who supported pushing the change back a year during the discussion in November. On Tuesday, he expressed support for moving it up a year.

"I support the recommended change," he said. "Our community, our students, (our) parents, have been through a lot ... we are hearing them."

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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