With three weeks left to go in the Missouri Legislature’s session, lawmakers continue to work on an effort to restrict four-day school weeks.

A Missouri House committee is considering whether to require districts with more than 30,000 residents to go back to holding school five days a week, unless local voters say otherwise. The provisions have been added to a home school bill that is sponsored by state Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington.

About 160 of Missouri’s more than 500 school districts are using the shortened week model – most are rural districts. Districts holding classes four days a week must still meet the same number of learning hours as schools operating five days a week.

Last year, the Independence School District became the largest district in the state to decide to move to a shortened school week. Dale Herl, superintendent of the Independence School District, wants lawmakers to grandfather in larger districts who are currently operating four days a week or plan to next school year.

“It is apparent that this legislation was purposely written to eliminate the ability of the Independent School District to institute the four-day week,” said Herl. “A core principle of education in Missouri is that of local control. This bill takes the authority away from the school districts and their duly-elected school boards.”

His district plans to move to the shortened week in the next academic year.

“We’ve spent nearly 18 months researching and planning for the possibility of a flexible calendar. And additionally, no employee will lose any pay with this transition. The plan also includes remedial instruction for students that are a grade level or more behind their peers on those Mondays, tutoring at all grade levels, enrichment activities, and college classes for our high school students on those Mondays. We are also offering childcare for our parents at a reduced cost,” said Herl. “We have already amended our salary schedules for next year and issued contracts to our employees.”

According to Herl, his district had 165 teacher resignations or retirements last year. This year, he said it has 97.

“We have about 1,100 certificated staff, so it’s all in perspective. Applications, we have 260 more than what we had at the same time last year. That’s just for teaching,” he said.

During Monday’s public hearing, Rep. Aaron McMullen, R-Independence, questioned Herl about the impact moving to a four-day school week would have on the local economy and housing prices. Herl said the district did not study those factors when deciding whether to switch to the shortened school week.

Matt Michelson, representing the Missouri State Teachers Association, told state Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, that the effort would “stifle” teacher recruitment.

“Our members that are contacting me about what’s happening in Jefferson City,” he said. “They’re looking at that support and I think that they see this as a piece that says, ‘Maybe we don’t really care about what you think as a teacher. We know in Jefferson City better than what you know locally to make those decisions.’”

“Welcome to Jeff City. Seems like that’s what all the bills here on education are doing,” said Merideth.

Michelson said raising teacher pay would make a much bigger impact on teacher recruitment and retention than using four-day school weeks.

State Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, has been leading the effort to move back to five-day school weeks. He has said that going to school five days a week is critical to student learning.

“We see it with kids when they’re off, the days, you have a loss of learning and then you got to come back and you got to relearn things,” he said.

Other components of the bill include:

•Requiring school districts to let home school and full-time virtual students participate in any event or activity offered by the school district. Districts cannot require these students to take a class in order to participate in events or activities.

•Excusing a student from attendance at school for mental or behavioral health reasons, provided that the school receives documentation from a mental health professional.

•Allowing a school district or public charter school to offer an elective social studies course relating, but not limited to, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, or the New Testament of the Bible.

•Letting the St. Louis school board fill any vacancy on the board by appointment for the remainder of the term.

•Allowing remaining members of an urban school board to fill a vacancy on the board by appointment until the next school board election.

The Missouri House General Laws Committee has not yet voted on Senate Bill 411.

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