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Rockford Public Schools makes last-minute schedule changes

A Rockford Public Schools bus drives through the city picking up students late in 2021.
Peter Medlin
A Rockford Public Schools bus drives through the city picking up students late in 2021.

The first day of school is Thursday for Rockford Public School students.

But the district's schedule was still changing with only a few days to spare.

RPS is using one-time COVID funding to extend the school year by 35 minutes at most elementary schools. Superintendent Ehren Jarrett says the time is supposed to be used to focus on literacy.

“We always struggle to get our most vulnerable students to come to extended year programming,” he said. “And so we thought what would be the best way to ensure the students who needed the most get that instruction.”

But, to pull it off, Jarrett says RPS needed to hire more bus drivers. It outsourced that to the bus company First Student. The contract was for 65 drivers. But only 12 were hired.

“They certainly were looking at 35-40 drivers with the hope to get to 65," said the superintendent, "and some strategies were being talked [about] to that number dropping pretty precipitously on Monday, which led to no way we can make the schedule work."

That’s when the district pivoted the schedule with the school year a week away.

To keep the extended school day, those elementary schools will start 20 minutes earlier than expected and end 30 minutes earlier.

Jarrett says he knows the last-minute change is hard for parents. And some parents say the earlier schedule will be difficult for elementary students and families with students at multiple schools.

Over the course of a year, the superintendent says the extra 35 minutes per day adds up to about 20 more school days.

He says the district is now in negotiations with First Student to “address the damages done to the district.”

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.