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Four-day school week discussion: How would it impact students?

  • / Updated:
  • Rebecca Swift 

Marcus Whitman Central School District Superintendent Dr. Christopher Brown has been in education for more than 20 years. Dr. Brown says he doesn’t see much positive coming from switching schools to four days a week.

“I look at it from a parents perspective,” Brown said. “I think it’s a hardship on a parent. During the pandemic, a lot of schools like us had one day where there wasn’t as much instruction. That unstructured time for a mom or a dad who’s trying to get to work and make this happen. I think is incredibly difficult.”

State guidelines don’t allow the change for now

Brown says New York State requires students to attend school 180 days a year. So giving a Friday or Monday off wouldn’t work right now due to state guidelines.

To make it work, there would have to be significant legislative changes from the State Education Department. 

He explains, there is a regulation surrounding seat time. That’s the amount of time a student has to sit in class in order to take certain standardized tests.

So the legislation, instead of requiring 180 days, that would have to shift to hours of contact time.

Study shows 1600 districts have already made the switch

According to a recent study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, there’s been an increasing trend in use of the four-day school week over the past two decades.

“Over 1,600 schools in 650 school districts, primarily in rural settings, are operating on this schedule prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study explained. “Historically this shortened school schedule was primarily motivated by financial considerations, but since the start of the pandemic other school districts have switched to a four-day model for public health reasons.”

Longer days open up other issues

Dr. Brown added if one day a week was cut, school days would have to be longer, which would push into extra circular activities and athletics.

“If it was allowed to be explored, I would want to have a very large community discussion about the impact of that decision,” Brown continued. “And I think you’d also have to decide, on that day, would you not have school and extra-circulars? Are we done on that day? What does that day look like?”

Marcus Whitman Central School District Superintendent Dr. Christopher Brown gives his opinion on schools transitioning to four days a week.

Brown added the state would have to start with the exploration. Then each individual community would have to see what works best for them.

How would districts benefit?

As for the financial benefit of cutting back days for the district, Brown said, he doesn’t see much.

“If you have a snow day, I’m still heating the place. I’m still providing some electricity. The teachers aren’t working for one less day worth of pay, or other employees for that matter. They’re going to get paid whether it’s an extended day on those four days. So I think the savings piece would be minimal.”

How would this impact students and families?

As for the impacts on students?

“Kids like consistency,” Brown said. “The majority of students like coming to school. They see their friends and socialize. They have a solid breakfast in lunch. When you take that day away from them, I think you’d find a lot of students missing out on some things that they desperately need from their school.”

Are later school-day start times possible for high schoolers?

Dr. Brown said he sees more positives in starting the day later for high school students. But a community would have to be willing to entertain that.

Brown did a study in a previous district for having the school day start later for high schoolers. That was met with opposition for several reasons, he explained. Those reasons include that a lot of high school students have younger siblings to watch when they get off the bus.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I think if this was ever to come where the public got an opinion, I hope they would take the time to give an opinion,” Brown continued. “I think so often these huge decisions are made with five people in a room and I don’t believe in that. I think a school is the center of their community, and if there was to be a large decision, I would like to see a large response in terms of how people felt.”