Four-day school week not coming to a school near you

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service

LANSING – Some states are moving toward a four-day school week but local districts in Michigan show no inclination to change their regular five-day school schedule, experts say.

“It’s a tough decision to make,” said Jennifer Smith, the director of government relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Michigan requires districts to have at least a minimum number of school hours and days, Smith said. According to state law, K-12 public school instruction should run for at least 180 days and 1,098 hours each school year.

“They [the districts] need to figure out how to get 180 days included if they’re only doing a four-day week,” Smith said.

Whether to adopt the four-day week depends on districts and their community decisions, Smith said.

For rural districts, the four-day week can cut transportation costs, she said.

A couple of years ago, several districts in the state tried the four-day week but it didn’t work out, said Don Wotruba, the association’s executive director.

And parents aren’t particularly fond of the idea, Wotruba said.

Big Jackson in the Northwest Lower Peninsula and Republic-Michigamme in the Upper Peninsula’s Iron County are the only two districts in the state that operate on a four-day school week, according to the Department of Education.

“We’ve never had any complaints about not having school on Friday,” said Kashmir Aprile, the secretary of the Big Jackson Public Schools in Newaygo County. It’s one of the only K-5 districts in the state, and upper grade students attend school in Big Rapids.

“A lot of families love it [the four-day week] because it gives them a three-day weekend,” Aprile said. The extra day off is good for family reunions and recovery from the weekdays.

Teachers also benefit from the four-day week, she said. A three-day weekend is convenient because it gives them an extra day to better prepare for their classes.

The district runs its schools from Monday to Thursday and has one half-Friday a month to meet the required school hours.

The Republic-Michigamme district operates its schools from Tuesday to Friday, with one hour and 10 minutes longer each day to meet the state’s requirement and ensure that students receive the same amount of instructional time as in regular five-day week, according to the district.

The district said it’s saved more than  $1 million since the four-day school week started in the school year of 2004-05. The savings included electricity, water, heating fuel, gas and bus drivers’ wages.

The School Board Association’s Smith said the four-day school week should be a collaborative decision between a district and community.

If parents aren’t satisfied with the four-day decision, the district should weight other options, Smith said.