Four-day school weeks – providing schools the flexibility to be creative

OP-ED By Reps. Dan Newhouse and Bruce Chandler
For the Yakima Herald-Republic


If there is one thing we know, it’s this: one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to children. Parents know this approach doesn’t work when it comes to raising children. Educators know it doesn’t work when it comes to educating students. And legislators know it doesn’t work when it comes to creating education policy. That is why we believe local school districts must be allowed flexibility to make their own decisions when it comes to determining how to best meet the needs of its students.

When local superintendents Martin Huffman and Ric Palmer contacted us with the idea of flexible school weeks, they did so because it would fit the needs of the students and families in their school districts.

With that goal in mind, we took their advice and crafted legislation to grant waivers from the 180-day school year requirement, while still keeping in place the current 1,000 hour school year requirement. Remember, under the current school week structure students miss approximately 20 days of school for teacher in-service days. Essentially, they are already in four-day school weeks most months already.

House Bill 1292 is straightforward. It would simply allow local school districts the ability to operate on a flexible school week, if it is in the best interest of students and communities agree.

First, a four-day school week would be an option for school districts – not a requirement. Community involvement and agreement is required at each step of the decision-making process. Districts would be obligated to meet with parents and members of the community in a public forum to discuss their concerns. The waiver request must include a detailed explanation of how concerns would be addressed. In addition, the district’s proposal must include an estimate of cost savings to the school district and how those savings will be redirected to support student learning.

How would this affect families, particularly single-family and low-income families? The concerns of working families should not be taken lightly. School districts around the country that have adopted a four-day school week found that the concerns of increased daycare costs were not necessarily realized. In part, because the school day lengthened by about 40 minutes, which mean students spend less time in after-school care. Many districts organized mentoring and tutoring activities utilizing classified employees, and middle and high school students for the planned non-class day. All-in-all, most districts report that the altered schedule did not result in the negative impact feared.

Superintendent Huffman addressed the issue raised by some who are worried classified employees will be working significantly fewer hours. What critics have failed to recognize is, the rural districts most likely to use a four-day option must rely on classified employees for a variety of responsibilities. For instance, bus drivers often help in the maintenance department when not transporting students. And, as mentioned earlier some classified staff could assist in tutoring or other special projects on the scheduled non-school day.

Again, let’s not forget, this issue is about flexibility and local control. This option isn’t the answer for every district, but it may be for some.

The Legislature has imposed mandates on our schools, in many cases leading to increased local levies. It is only fair that the Legislature also empower local school districts with the opportunity to be innovative and creative. We respect local school boards, local administrators and local educators. It is important to encourage innovation and flexibility with decisions that affect communities. That is exactly what House Bill 1292 would provide.

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Washington State House Republican Communications