Four-day school week rules stimulate controversy

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

A set of proposed rules for Oklahoma public school districts using four-day instructional weeks is causing controversy among educators and legislators.

The rules have been adopted by the state Board of Education and forwarded to the Legislature for action in the 2020 regular session, which began this week. Early reaction is that the new rules would make it tougher, as of 2021, for school districts to continue to use four-day weeks.

State Rep. Ty Burns, R-Morrison, criticized the rules in a press release issued Jan. 28. for being too stringent.

“We expected reasonable waiver rules, and we want academic accountability,” Burns said, “but we think the rules proposed are unfair and unobtainable.” He also said the four-day week is working well for many schools in rural Oklahoma.

Jeff Lay, superintendent of Barnsdall Public Schools in Osage County, which uses a four-day week, told the Journal-Capital that he agrees with Burns’ contention that the proposed rules are “unfair and unobtainable.”

“It is very clear that these rules are an attack on schools with a 4-day week calendar, and threaten the local control of our boards of education,” Lay said in a statement to the Journal-Capital. “Many schools in Oklahoma that have always operated on a 5-day week schedule are unable to meet the requirements in these proposed rules.”

Lay said there is no factual basis for assuming that a five-day school week is superior.

“If academic outcomes for students in 4-day and 5-day week schools were starkly different, then academic data would show that,” he said. “However, there is no data that proves the assumption that being in school five days per week results in better academic outcomes for students.”

The Journal-Capital talked last Friday with state Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, and state Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, who were in Pawhuska to attend a ribbon-cutting for a Grand Lake Mental Health facility in the city.

“I know it’s a critical subject,” Coleman said, acknowledging the importance of the proposed rules. “It’s going to have to come out of committee first.”

Luttrell said one question is whether the Legislature has the flexibility to make changes in the rules, or whether the rules have to be either approved or rejected as a whole, without changes.

The two legislators indicated they could think of some school districts that perform at a high enough level that they should probably be able to maintain the use of a four-day week.

“From what I’ve heard, the Morrison schools should be exempt,” Coleman said, referring to schools in the area that Rep. Burns represents.

Luttrell said that, from what he knows, the Shidler Public Schools are making a four-day week work well.

Coleman described the four-day school week issue as “one of the more more complicated, passionate issues” the Legislature will consider this session. He said that he does not believe the four-day week really saves money, but he thinks it is a very effective teacher recruiting tool for the districts using it.