A new school day in Minneapolis

Students at Jefferson Community School
Buses drop off students at Jefferson Community School in Lowry Hill East. A proposal from the Minneapolis school district would change start and end times at 14 elementary and middle schools in Southwest Minneapolis, including Jefferson. File photo

Most Southwest Minneapolis elementary and middle schools would have new start times beginning in fall 2021 under a proposal being considered by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) leaders.

The proposal, unveiled this October, would change start and end times at 37 of 49 district elementary and middle schools, including 14 of 15 in Southwest Minneapolis. School days would continue to be 6 hours, 30 minutes.

High schools might also have new start times, though the district has not announced school-by-school specifics beyond that four high schools would start at 8 a.m. and four would start at 8:40 a.m. Most MPS high schools currently start around 8 a.m., though Southwest and Washburn start at 8:30 a.m.

District leaders say late end times can be a barrier to participation in after-school activities and programs. They say the proposal is aimed at creating more equitable access to those programs while maximizing the transportation savings created by the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) restructuring plan.

“When we go until 4:10 p.m. and the program doesn’t end until close to 6 p.m. and then students still need to ride the bus home, we’re really cutting into that family time,” senior operations officer Karen DeVet told the School Board.

SCHOOL START TIMES COULD CHANGE

The proposal would generally concentrate earlier start times among the elementary schools with the highest levels of poverty. That would allow those schools to finish earlier and could make accessing after-school programming more convenient.

The proposal would move all middle school start times to 8:40 a.m. or 8:45 a.m. and their end times to 3:10 p.m. or 3:15 p.m. Currently, middle schools start at 9:30 a.m. and run until 4 p.m., which can be a barrier for students who wish to participate in high school athletics.

In Southwest Minneapolis, start times would range from two hours earlier at the new Jefferson magnet school in Lowry Hill East to two hours later at the newly christened Windom Community School. Only Burroughs Community School in Lynnhurst, which starts at 9:10 a.m. and ends at 3:40 p.m., would see no changes.

MPS currently has five “tiers” of start times spaced roughly 30 minutes apart, with the first schools starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m. and the last starting at 9:40 a.m. and ending at 4:10 p.m.

The staggered start times allow the district to run buses multiple times throughout a morning or afternoon shift. In non-pandemic times, the district says it runs 156 general-education bus routes per day, each of which costs about $120,000 a year.

Under the CDD, district officials say they will need about 30% fewer bus routes per day, since students will be going to schools closer to their homes. They estimate the transportation savings from the decrease in routes at $7 million annually, which would reverse the years-long trend of rising transportation costs amid declining enrollment. The district could still see a 25% reduction in bus routes with the proposed bell times, according to district leaders.

District leaders are aiming to submit a final proposal to the School Board in November.