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4 Day School Weeks Take Center Stage

Members of the Oklahoma 4 Day School Coalition traveled to the state capitol on President's Day to collectively advocate for the right of local control.

The Oklahoma 4 Day School Coalition Comes together at the Capitol to Change Minds and Garner Votes

Members of the Oklahoma 4 Day School Coalition traveled to the state capitol on President's Day to collectively advocate for the right of local control. The Coalition contends that school board members, parents, and teachers should have the right to determine what works best for their students, families, and local communities, including the power to choose four-day or five-day school weeks.

The issue of a four-day school weeks centers around Senate Bill 411 which was passed into law last legislative session. This bill mandates that Oklahoma public schools must be in session for 180 days of instruction or be in session for no less than 1,080 hours spread over a minimum of 165 days of instruction. If, however, a district board adopts the 1,080-hour policy and wants to have less than 165 days of official instruction a year (i.e. a four-day school week), then each school site in the district must receive an individual waiver from the State Board of Education.

To receive a waiver, each school in the district must comply with a set of requirements, or rules, established by the State Board of Education pertaining to the academic achievement of students and the savings incurred by the school. Many argue the rules proposed by the State Board of Education are overly strict and unfair. Several members of the 4 Day School Coalition explained that the proposed rules would prevent a vast majority of districts from maintaining or implementing a four-day school week. In fact, many five-day districts would fail to comply with the proposed rules. Before the rules can take effect, however, they must be approved by the State Legislature. If approved, the rules will take effect in the 2021-2022 school year.

Two members of the 4 Day School Coalition, Kristen Caruso and Sandra Valentine, discussed at the capitol on Monday, Feb. 17 their personal experiences with four-day school weeks. Caruso, an attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma, was initially opposed to the idea of a four-day school week.

“My initial reaction was, 'I don't want my child learning four-days a week,'” Caruso said. “I want my child learning five-days a week. You're taking away a day of my child's education every single week.”

Caruso, not being one to sit on the sidelines, took her issues with four-day school weeks directly to the superintendent of Noble Public Schools (NPS), Frank Solomon. Solomon explained the budget crisis and the funding shortage facing Noble Public Schools. He ensured Caruso that although the school would be meeting only four days a week instead of the traditional five, that the number of instructional hours would remain the same — 1,080 hours. Still uncertain with the forced change, Caruso decided to keep an open mind and leave her daughter enrolled in Noble Public Schools, at least for the time being.

“I started noticing the difference within about two weeks of the four-day school weeks starting” Caruso said. “My child did not like being separated from me at all. When we went to four-day weeks, that went away.”

Just as Caruso's daughter began enjoying school more and more, her teachers began noticing problems with her reading skills. Caruso's daughter was suffering from dyslexia.

“Being in a four-day district, [the district was] able to keep a teacher who was wanting to retire,” Caruso said. “The teacher happens to be a certified dyslexia therapist. My daughter works with her two times a week. I lose that if we go to five days.”

Caruso continued that if the district is forced to return to five-days, then many qualified teachers are likely to retire. Without a substantial increase in funding, it will be impossible to recruit competitive applicants to replace those retiring. If the district loses and is unable to retain the dyslexia therapist, then Caruso will be forced to look outside the district for those services.

“The closest certified [therapist] I can find is in northwest Oklahoma City but they're only open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” Caruso said. “So, that means I'm pulling her out of school because we have to drive an hour there, drive an hour back, and have a two-hour appointment. If I do that two times a week my kid is now missing over a full day of classroom instruction, whereas right now, she's not missing anything.”

Valentine is from Shawnee and her school district holds class five days a week. She visited the capitol as part of the Coalition to champion for local control.

“I am fighting for local control,” said Valentine, who works part time in taking low performing schools and turning them into high performing schools. “The districts have the right to decide.

“Schools don't have the goal of saving massive amounts of money,” Valentine continued. “They have the goal of educating students and if that money [saved by going to four days] can be better used by hiring another teacher, then hire another teacher.

“I am also a teacher who walked out after the walkout. I am one of those 30,000 teachers who has a valid license who would like to work for a four-day school week district. That is very enticing from the business point of view. I'm very familiar with the report card and the four-day school districts are very innovative.”

Tom Turner, Superintendent at Battiest Public Schools, was also at the capitol as a proponent of four-day school weeks.

“We found all these great benefits and silver lining in this,” Turner said. “Overall, there is a much more positive atmosphere and environment. Kids have more family time and they aren't tired or don't melt down on Fridays. Personally, I am more productive.”

While addressing the rules at a recent press conference, Turner argues the way the rules are set up, the odds are stacked against school districts.

“It is unfeasible for nine schools in a district to go four days and one school to go five days,” Turner said. “Every school has to be above average, not just the district overall. It stacks the odds against the district qualifying. All it takes is one below average school any given year to make the district ineligible for a waiver.”

The legislature has not set an official date to vote on the proposed rules. As of now, many options are still available to the members of the House and Senate. They could confirm or reject the proposed rules; they could amend the original bill to postpone the vote and implementation of any new rules; or they could reject the rules and request certain changes be made. As the situation develops, POE will help keep you informed.