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Rochester, MN (KROC-AM News) - While students at Rochester's Longfellow Elementary School have been attending classes under their modified schedule for weeks, the vast majority of the students in the Rochester Public Schools are returning to start the new school year this week.

For most of the approximately 17,000 students in the Rochester School District, the first day of classes for the 2023-2024 school year begin Tuesday at the Middle and High Schools, while the elementary-age students are scheduled to report for the start of the new school year on Wednesday. Superintendent Kent Pekel discussed the start of the school year during his regular monthly appearance on Rochester Today Monday Morning on News Talk 1340 KROC-AM and 96.9 FM.

Pekel says the most noticeable change for students will be the return to no-cost breakfast and lunch, which is now mandated statewide and fully funded by the state after the loss of federal COVID relief funding forced school districts to end the no-cost meals that were offered during the pandemic. He says students will also need to adapt to some changes in the school district's policies concerning cell phone use, which he described as an evolution of the "red light-green light" policy instituted last year.

Children using smart phone
Ridofranz ThinkStock
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Pekel says School Resource Officers will be on duty despite a change in state law that has prompted objections from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. A provision was included in the omnibus Education bill that was approved by the 2023 State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Tim Walz that prohibits police officers stationed in public schools, along with other staff, from using holds that involve having a student restrained while lying facedown in a prone position unless there is an imminent and serious threat to the safety of the student or others.

Credit: Stephen Maturen, Getty Images
Credit: Stephen Maturen, Getty Images
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That has some law enforcement agencies concerned that officers could face legal liabilities if they were to intervene to halt other criminal activities. The City of Moorhead has decided to pull its officers out of the community's schools for those reasons. The Rochester Superintendent says he has held discussions with Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin and the School Resource Officers will be on duty when students return to classes this week.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin, Rochester Police, Rochester
Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin/Kim David, Townsquare Media
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He says the contract worked out between the two government entities has made it clear that the officers are prohibited from being involved in student discipline and should not ever physically restrain students unless there is an imminent safety threat. Pekel says, to his knowledge, no student has been restrained in the prone position in the more than two years he has worked in the Rochester School District and he does not anticipate it occurring in the future.

Rochester Public Schools
Rochester Public Schools
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Pekel says he does agree that there needs to be some clarification concerning the new law. As an example, Pekel says he could foresee the need to have a School Resource Officer restrain a student in a case involving very serious property damage. He says that type of behavior would very clearly need to be stopped but restraining that student apparently falls outside the scope of what is allowable under the changed law.

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