‘Mixed feelings’: Parish parents share feedback on four-day school week proposal

Published 9:25 am Monday, February 26, 2024

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VIDALIA, La. — Surveys and Town Hall meetings reveal that parents have “mixed feelings” about proposals to shorten the school week to four days, with concerns about child care and the quality of education offset by the potential benefits of three-day weekends.

The Concordia Parish School Board completed its series of town hall meetings this week, wrapping up an information-gathering campaign that included parent surveys and face-to-face meetings. At issue is the possibility of converting the district to four-day school weeks in the 2024-2025 school year, a move that Superintendent Toyua Bachus admits is not an easy decision.

“If you read the recent newsletter, you know I’m apprehensive about this,” Bachus said. “But I’m very open-minded about it. Because if there is any way to help children, then I need to explore it.”

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In surveys sent out throughout the district, parents were asked to share their biggest concerns with a four-day school week. With a response rate of around 70 percent, 41 percent of the parents surveyed said “nothing” and 40 percent said “lack of childcare.”

“That comes as no surprise,” Bachus said. “We’ve got about five childcare centers in Concordia Parish, so that has to be a concern.”

As to what is appealing about a four-day workweek, 64 percent said longer weekends and more time for family. Parents attending the Town Hall on Wednesday said they liked having a weekday off each week to schedule doctor visits and appointments for their children without having to mark them absent.

How do parents feel the change would affect the quality of education? Sixty-one percent said it would have a positive effect; 20 percent said it would have a negative effect; and 17 percent said no effect at all.

“Schools that have moved to a four-day school week have shown similar academic performance compared to schools with a five-day school week,” Bachus said. “I want to clarify that there’s not a whole lot of research out there, but there is some. I’m going to share the good and the bad in an effort to be transparent.”

Bachus said she was apprehensive about four-day school weeks because of the uptick in crime involving older teens. Some districts have reported an increase of 20 percent in juvenile crime after shortening the school week. However, chronic teacher and student absenteeism and a decreasing number of qualified teachers is a dire situation that needs to be addressed, she said.

Currently, the attendance rating is between the high 70th percentile to the low 80th percentile, she said, which is “OK for now, but you cannot run with numbers like that and a four-day workweek,” she said.

Bachus added her belief is that a four-day week would positively affect staff and student attendance. “If we were to do the four-day week, we’re hoping that we would do better with attendance because we’re paying closer attention to it,” she said.

At least one parent voiced concerns about potential changes to the start and end date of the school year and to planned breaks, such as Fall Break. Bachus has shared a draft calendar to outline how the change could be implemented, though the final calendar must be approved by employees and the school board.

Pam Higgins, one of the parents attending a Town Hall meeting at Vidalia Junior High School on Wednesday said she has “mixed feelings.”

Lack of childcare is not her biggest concern, she said. “I keep kids at home so that is not an issue for me,” she said. The proposed calendar starts the academic year for students a week earlier than the traditional five-day week calendar and ends the academic year a week later. This would have students coming to school on Aug. 1 and finishing on May 23 with a half day, all while shortening school breaks.

“I don’t like that they’re starting the school year so early in August and taking away Fall Break. Those are times that I spend with my family and go on vacations with them. I can’t go anywhere with them on a three-day weekend,” Higgins said, asking if the school year could begin later in August and end later in May.

However, Bachus said that change would take away from the credits high-school-age children can earn in the fall. “We don’t want to do anything that takes away opportunities from a child,” she said.

Among the parents surveyed, 29 percent said they would not accept any compromises of shorter breaks or longer school days for a four-day week while 31 percent said they would accept a longer day and 33 percent said they would accept both shorter breaks and longer school days.

Bachus continues to reiterate that the shift to a four-day workweek for employees would be beneficial to the district’s recruiting and retention efforts as well as reduce student and teacher absences.

“I will share with you that when we said we were going for a four-day week, the number of teachers who reached out with the desire to come to Concordia Parish was amazing,” she said.  “We do have vacancies right now. It’s no secret. We are in desperate need of qualified teachers in all of our communities and that didn’t start today. … I have communities like Monterey with 12 teachers who can go home because they can retire. Although I don’t want them to go, it’s selfish to keep begging them to stay because they’ve earned the right to retire.”

With this series of Town Hall meetings over, an updated survey will be sent out including the information presented and have a comment section for people to submit their specific concerns. All responses will then be presented with multiple calendar options that include five-day and four-day weeks for district approval, Bachus said. The calendar for the 2024-2025 academic year must be adopted by March 30.

None of this is set in stone, Bachus reiterated. “There’s nothing permanent in education,” she said, adding if the district does move to a four-day week and does not see improved attendance, then it could revert to a five-day week.

To learn more about what a four-day school week would look like, click here.