Four-day school week discussed

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rising fuel costs may cause a change in the long-standing five-day school week, but it’s not in the Dallas County School System’s immediate future.

That was the word from Superintendent Fannie Major-McKenzie at Monday’s board meeting.

She said it would first take an act by the Alabama Legislature, the change the state code that requires students to attend classes 180 days.

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“We have been asked by the director of the association of school superintendents if changing our school week is a hot topic,” she said. “We have found it is being discussed, but nothing definite has happened.”

She told the board that as far as she knows, there is no move in the legislature to change the code. She also said the question has raised the pros and cons of such a move.

The biggest benefit she said as of now is the move would save fuel by buses only running four days, rather than five.

Another benefit they have discussed at the state level is that high school students would be able to take advantage of the dual enrollment programs, as well as take part in more extracurricular activities.

On the downside, Major-McKenzie said there are safety issues involved.

“The move would mean starting school an hour earlier and ending an hour later,” she said. “That would mean we’d have students waiting for buses in the dark, and in some cases getting off the buses well after dark.”

Students are required to have six hours of instruction time per day, so the early start and late end would accommodate the fifth school day that no classes would be held.

“By going to that longer day there is also the risk that it would compromise the student’s attention span,” she said.

Other issues she brought up included the fact that most curriculum programs are based on nine-week grading periods, and teachers pace their teaching on that period.

Another issue she brought up was childcare for that fifth school day.

“Whether it is on Monday or Friday, that fifth day, parents would have to come up with childcare,” she said.

There are also contracts that would come into play such as support staff like bus drivers.

“Our greatest challenge would be our bus drivers because they would lose a day,” she said.

Yet another issue would be utilities at the schools. She said it is harder to heat or cool a school building after it has sat idle for three days.

As she pointed out, there is no move to make the change, but it is being considered in some areas. She said she expects some schools to even do a pilot study or program on the four-day week.

“Really, this is nothing we’re considering here in Dallas County,” she said. “However, we will take our lead from the state. It is feasible, but we can’t do anything unless the legislature makes the change in the code.”