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Rural school districts get creative to maintain spirit of popular four day schedule

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Joshua Hoehne
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A 2019 law was designed to limit four-day school weeks across Oklahoma, but those districts are making an effort to keep their four-day calendars alive.

The practice had become increasingly popular as districts tried to cut costs and lure teachers to their classrooms with an attractive schedule amid an educator shortage.

But, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the law in taking full effect, and a State Department of Education tally shows 73 of Oklahoma’s more than 500 districts continue to use four-day school weeks this spring.

Many do this by reducing the number of school days in a year and increasing the number of hours each day so they are in class for fewer than 165 days. The law – Senate Bill 441 – states school districts must have at least 165 instructional days and 1,080 instructional hours per school year.

Even though the law was in effect this year, Oklahoma’s State Board of Education gave schools a blanket waiver to go less than 165 days.

The schools can apply for a waiver right now, but it has performance metrics related to schools improving their state test scores. Because state tests were paused to COVID-19 during the 2019-20 school year, there is no measurable data to illustrate improvement.

Oklahoma’s State Department of Education reports no district has applied for a waiver to attend fewer than 165 instructional days. A spokesperson says the deadline is June 30.

But many rural superintendents felt like it was impractical to apply, said Derrick Meador of Jennings Public Schools.

So, he and his school board decided to get creative. His district is sprinkling in virtual Fridays to get up to the required number of 165. The ultimate goal: retain educators who might take a job elsewhere.

“It’s popular in the community, and the teachers love it, and you keep good teachers in place,” he said.

He’s hardly alone.

March is a common time for school boards to set calendars for the upcoming academic year. And schedules have or are being considered across the state.

In Granite, the district is adding virtual Fridays throughout the year to get to 165, according to the district superintendent. Bridge Creek Schools in Blanchard will go five days a week in the fall and four days in the spring, according to a calendar on their website.

Meador said in his area, other four-day districts have all had conversations about their plans. They’re each finding ways to make it work and take as many Fridays off as possible.

And Meador said he doesn’t believe it will be to the detriment of students. After all, Jennings has been utilizing a four-day week for eight years.

“We’ll have the same amount of instruction this next year as we have had the previous eight,” Meador said. “We’re just changing how many days.”

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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