Student class days depend on the school — and vary widely

The amount of days Idaho students spend in school varies widely from one school to another, and in some cases, the difference is a matter of months, not weeks. 

That’s partly because some schools operate on four-day weeks and some on five-day weeks — in fact, the majority of Idaho districts and charters have dropped a weekday of school, often in order to recruit and retain teachers. 

And more school leaders are considering it. 

But a controversial provision in House Bill 521, which awaits the governor’s signature and would dole out $1 billion for school facilities, aims to dampen that momentum. As written, the bill attaches a number of strings to potential facilities money — one of which is a minimum number of school days, to be determined at a later date

That proviso has caused confusion and anxiety, and some lawmakers are rushing to strike it or water it down in the few days remaining in the session.  

For now, school leaders are watching and waiting with as much patience as they can muster.

The state already requires a minimum amount of instructional hours per school year, and some superintendents say that legislators should leave the decision about days up to local leaders. 

“Tying funding to specific contact days is decidedly antithetical to any ‘Local Control’ mantra being espoused by the Idaho State Legislature,” said Lance Pearson, superintendent of Kellogg School District, which is exploring the idea of moving to a four-day week. 

With nearby districts either on or considering a four-day week, like Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene, Pearson said Kellogg would be “remiss” not to explore the possibility. Otherwise, the district could lose teachers to its neighbors, which would be a detriment to students. 

“Teacher quality is the single most important factor influencing student achievement,” Pearson said. 

As the conversation continues, EdNews took a look at the amount of days students spend in school at every district and charter in the state. It’s a wide spectrum, ranging from 133 school days per year at Fern-Waters Public Charter in Salmon to 209 days at a year-round charter in Middleton called Promise Academy that opened this fall. That’s a difference of  about 15 full school weeks. For traditional public school districts, the gap spans from 140 school days at a half-dozen rural locations, to 177 days in Lewiston — a difference of more than seven full school weeks. 

Find out how many days students spend in school at your district or charter.  

Idaho requires a minimum number of instruction hours, but leaves days up to loc         al leaders. That could soon change. Here’s a look at student instructional days statewide. 

Whether an Idaho student is learning at a five-day or four-day school, they must be in class for a certain amount of time each school year. Here are those requirements:

Grade level Minimum instructional hours required
K 450
1-3 810
4-8 900
9-11 990
12 979
Alternative school 900

Currently, districts and charters can spread those hours among however many days they want, with most opting for four-day weeks. Local leaders can also set their own calendars, including when the school year ends and begins, and the amount and duration of breaks. 

It adds up to some big differences. Here’s what we found out. 

Fewest days in school: At the following charters or schools, students are in class 140 days per year or fewer:

  • Fern-Waters Public Charter, Salmon, 133 days
  • Upper Carmen Public Charter, Carmen, 136 days
  • Monticello Montessori Charter, Ammon, 138 days
  • Council School District, 140 days
  • Soda Springs School District, 140 days
  • Hagerman School District, 140 days
  • Pleasant Valley Elementary District, Jordan Valley, Ore. 140 days
  • Three Creek Elementary District, Rogerson, 140 days
  • Cambridge School District, 140 days
  • The Village Charter, Boise, 140 days
  • Heritage Academy, Jerome, 140 days
  • North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, Rathdrum, 140 days
  • Idaho STEM Academy, Blackfoot, 140 days
  • Hayden Canyon Charter, 140 days

Kristin Foss, an administrator at Fern-Waters Public Charter, said that families and staff like the school’s schedule, and the four-day week aligns with the Salmon School District (which authorizes the charter). 

“Our students in nearly every grade and subject are performing … above the Idaho average on the ISAT, so I feel confident in saying that we are meeting the educational needs of our students,” she wrote in an email to EdNews. 

The 2023 ISAT scores for Fern-Waters, as shown below, were above the state average in all three content areas. 

Most days in school: At these charter schools and districts, students are in class 175 days per year or more:

  • Lake Pend Oreille School District, 175 days
  • Nampa School District, 175 days
  • Wilder School District, 175 days
  • Kellogg School District, 175 days
  • Inspire Academics, Boise, 175 days
  • Idaho College and Career Readiness Academy, Meridian 175 days
  • Boise School District, 176 days
  • Wallace School District, 176 days
  • Lewiston School District, 177 days
  • Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, 179 days
  • The Kootenai Bridge Academy, Coeur d’Alene 181 days
  • Rise Charter, Kimberly 184 days
  • Promise Academy, Middleton, 209 days

Todd Howard, Wallace’s superintendent, said five-day weeks have been working well and teacher retention is high at his district. For now, neighboring districts like Mullan and Kellogg are also on five-day schedules. 

But if nearby districts start dropping to four-day weeks, “that may be the driving force” for Wallace to consider doing the same. 

Howard said it’s a decision best left to local leaders “based upon the characteristics of the district.” Post Falls, for example, is near the Washington border and is piloting four-day weeks this school year in order to compete for teachers with out-of-state districts that pay better. 

Some school leaders, like Coeur d’Alene Charter Director Dan Nicklay, remain committed to offering five day weeks to students, even as doing so becomes more rare. “The academy will still be here for our students, five days per week, delivering quality education,” he recently wrote in a letter to parents. “And our students will continue to lead the state.”

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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