As soon as the Piute School District pivoted to a four-day school week for 2023-24 school year, parents whose children attend tiny Antimony Elementary School started reaching out to the Garfield County School District.

Although the school is part of the Garfield District, students who attend the K-6 school typically attend junior high and high school at Piute High School in Junction under an interlocal agreement because it is closer to Antimony than other of Garfield’s secondary schools.

When Piute moved away from a traditional five-day schedule, families with children in both schools expressed concerns about navigating two school calendars.

The local school board addressed the matter, unanimously agreeing to seek a waiver of the state rule on minimum school days, said Garfield School District Superintendent John Dodds.

“There was 100% consensus that this is best for kids, better for the community, best for parents and (children) being with their families,” Dodds told the Utah State Board of Education, which voted unanimously to grant the waiver.

With the state board’s vote, Antimony Elementary became the 23rd school in Utah to adopt a four-day schedule, which in its case means there’s no school on Fridays but school is in session longer Monday through Thursday to meet the state’s requirement of a minimum of 990 instructional hours per year.

Most of Utah’s public schools that have adopted four-day schedules are small, rural, and remote. Families travel several hours to medical appointments, and for some, to shop for groceries. For context, there are some 945 public schools in Utah.

Competing in interscholastic sports and activities meant many high school students left school early on game days.

Twenty of the schools that have received waivers of the minimum school day rule fit that description. They include schools in Tooele, Box Elder, Duchesne, Garfield, Piute, Rich and Tintic school districts.

The vast majority of the schools are elementary schools, although five high schools have also shifted to four-day weeks: Tintic, West Desert, Rich, Piute and Dugway, which is a K-12 school.

According to the Utah State Board of Education, three of the 23 schools that observe four-day school weeks are charter schools: American Leadership Academy, Spectrum Academy and Utah County Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In Antimony Elementary’s case, enrollment has ranged from seven to 22 students, Dodds said. According to state enrollment data, the school served 15 students during the 2022-23 school year.

“So it’s a very small school on the border of our county that feeds into Piute County School District. So this would really align and support those families that live there,” he said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states have at least one school district on four-day school week schedules, which is a 600% increase since 1999. Approximately 850 of the nation’s school districts use four-day schedules, up from 650 in 2020.

In Utah, seven of 42 school districts have schools on four-day schedules, some with all of their schools on that schedule and others, such Box Elder and Tooele school districts, in which just some of the schools are on four-day weeks.

Rural Utah district seeks OK for four-day school week

Educational research regarding the impacts of four-day school weeks is mixed.

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One study of Colorado students found a statistically significant improvement in math scores among students on four-day schedules. However,  a similar study found no significant differences in student performance. 

Rand Corp. study found evidence of improved student attendance, behavioral and emotional well-being, and school climate. However, the study determined there was no difference in quantitative data with respect to sleep, fatigue and student achievement.

Some other areas of concern are whether longer school days are good practice for elementary school-age students, present challenges for working parents to secure child care on off days, and the impacts on students who experience food insecurity and heavily rely on school nutrition programs.

On the positive side, some schools report that four-day school weeks are a boon for educators because they have an extra day to plan lessons, grade assignments and attend teacher training opportunities.

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