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Keegan Pruente, left, works with Laura Kilpatrick, right, during Keegan's piano lessons on Sept. 11 in Independence, Mo. (AP Photo/Nick Ingram)
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — It’s a Monday in September, but with schools closed, the three children in the Pruente household have nowhere to be. Callahan, 13, contorts herself into a backbend as 7-year-old Hudson fiddles with a balloon and 10-year-old Keegan plays the piano.
Like a growing number of students around the U.S., the Pruente children are on a four-day school schedule, a change instituted this fall by their district in Independence, Missouri.
To the kids, it’s terrific. “I have a three-day break of school!” exclaimed Hudson.
But their mom, Brandi Pruente, who teaches French in a neighboring district in suburban Kansas City, is frustrated to find herself hunting for activities to keep her kids entertained and off electronics while she works five days a week.
“I feel like I’m back in the COVID shutdown,” she said.
Hundreds of school systems around the country have adopted four-day weeks in recent years, mostly in rural and western parts of the U.S. Districts cite cost savings and advantages for teacher recruitment, although some have questioned the effects on students who already missed out on significant learning during the pandemic.
For parents, there also is the added complication, and cost, of arranging child care for that extra weekday. While surveys show parents approve overall, support wanes among those with younger children.
On this Monday, Brandi Pruente was home because Hudson had a mysterious rash on his arm. Most weeks, her oldest would be in charge, with occasional help from grandparents. She has no interest in paying for the child care option the district is offering for $30 per day. Multiplied by several kids, it adds up.
Even then, the district-provided child care isn’t as convenient because it’s not in every school. And in other four-day districts, so many parents adjust their work schedule or enlist family to help that the day care has been discontinued because of low enrollment.
That is especially concerning for parents of younger kids and those whose disabilities can make finding child care an extra challenge.
In more than 13,000 school districts nationwide, nearly 900 operate on a truncated schedule, up from 662 in 2019 and a little more than 100 in 1999, said Paul Thompson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University.
The practice has taken off mostly in rural communities, where families often have a stay-at-home parent or nearby grandparent. But Independence is anything but rural, with 14,000 students, including around 70% who are eligible for government-subsidized meals.
The district offers meals on Mondays, but not at every school. Starting in October, struggling students will be able to attend school on Mondays for extra help. Superintendent Dale Herl said discussions with officials at other districts convinced him parents will figure out child care for the other students.
In some communities, a four-day week is better for families. In the Turner district in north-central Montana, taking Fridays off avoids situations such as basketball games played at districts three or more hours away that leave only a small number of students at school, Superintendent Tony Warren said.
The change also provides another day to work on family farms in the district with a little more than 50 students, Warren said, although he now also sees some larger districts adopting the schedule.
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