If you could choose any day of the week to leave school early, which day would it be?
If you're like most people, who jump at the chance to extend the weekend, your answer would be "Friday."But many Utah school districts schedule weekly "early out" days on Monday or Wednesday or some other day - not Friday. Early outs are days when elementary students are released early to give teachers planning time.
Even though administrators recognize Friday early outs as better for students and families, many schedule them on other days primarily because they don't want teachers cutting out early too.
"They want to make sure the planning day is used," said Jordan School District spokeswoman Patty Dahl. "They feel that will happen if they ensure (the early-out day) is earlier in the week."
Jordan teachers recently voted to change their early-out day from Thursday to Wednesday. Friday was not an option.
Syracuse Junior High principal James Schmidt schedules an early-out day every few weeks as part of his Centennial Schools program. When he started the program two years ago, he requested Friday, but Davis School District administrators gave him Monday in order to coincide with early outs in its traditional-schedule elementary schools.
"I think it's fine this way," Schmidt said. "I do not tolerate the teachers leaving early. It may be a little easier to deal with this way."
But many teachers and parents beg to differ. They point out that many families take their students out of school early on Fridays anyway, for trips and the like, boosting absenteeism rates. What's more, they say students' learning is disrupted when they come to school Monday morning raring to go, just to turn around a few hours later to return home.
"I think it's better to have a longer weekend and have the kids get a good start on Monday," said Vickie Buhrman, parent of a student at Orchard Elementary in North Salt Lake.
Orchard principal Pamela Park, who has lived or taught in four school districts, recently petitioned the Davis Board of Education for an early-out change to Friday. The board granted it.
"When I came to Davis district and had a Monday early out, I thought it was the most backward thing I ever saw in my life," she said. "The students wanted to leave early Friday. It would be more convenient for families."
Problems with teacher truancy on Friday early outs appear more imagined than real. Salt Lake City School District, for instance, has had early outs on Fridays for many years without incident.
"We haven't had problems," said spokeswoman Sherri Clark.
But there are other reasons for non-Friday early outs besides keeping tabs on teachers. Some educators say it's counterproductive to have preparation time on Friday afternoon when they're tired from working all week.
"Some teachers think a Monday early out is good because they're fresh for planning," Park said.
Assistant Davis Superintendent Stephen Ronnenkamp said effective planning was basically the thinking when the district began Monday early outs in the early 1980s.
But when the district began year-round scheduling a few years ago, administrators decided to give the 14 year-round schools a Friday early out given that the scheduling tracks change on Fridays. Jordan's year-round schools also have Friday early outs.
Three traditional-schedule elementary schools in Davis, including Orchard, have since successfully petitioned to change their early out to Friday.
"We have found that both of them are acceptable," Ronnenkamp said. "Both of them work. (But) what we're hearing is (Friday) is better for parents and teachers."
Ronnenkamp said whatever past attitudes may have been, Davis administrators have no philosophical objection to Davis schools switching early outs to Fridays. But the initial decision has created some practical problems, the biggest being that schedule shake-ups often create major busing problems.
"I knocked heads for a while with transportation on that one," Park said.
Ironically, Ronnenkamp will soon become superintendent of Granite School District, which has Friday early-out days.