The Friends of King charter school network will be moving its two Orleans Parish schools to a four-day schedule beginning this fall, eliminating classes on Mondays, according to school officials.
For parents who work and require child care, the charter group will offer an optional day of enrichment programming, such as arts and music, according to Tracie Washington, an attorney for the network. But parents will have to pay a fee, which has yet to be determined.
“Think more than camp, but less than school,” Washington said Friday of the planned Monday activities.
Friends of King operates Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward and Joseph A. Craig Charter in Treme.
Elementary school students at Craig — an F-rated school — will attend school Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., an hour longer than this year. The same goes for elementary and middle school students at Martin Luther King, a C-rated school. High school students at King will attend from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
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Both schools will also implement a longer school year, starting on Aug. 13 and ending June 3.
In a statement, Friends of King officials called the new schedule “cutting-edge,” claiming that it should improve students' performance, increase student and teacher retention and reduce operating costs.
Critics, however, worry about the complications the schedule will create for working parents, who will have now have to pay to have their children in a supervised setting on Mondays. Among them is the Erase the Board Coalition, an education reform activist group, which chastised the charter group for announcing the change after the first round of the OneApp, the lottery enrollment process for most New Orleans public schools.
“Where does this leave parents who cannot find care for their children?” the group said in a statement, adding that there are “limited seats” in other schools for parents who want to move their kids in the second and final round of OneApp, which closes at the end of May. “This is not right.”
Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said she hadn’t heard of another charter organization in Louisiana making the move to a four-day school week, but that each one has the power to do so if it wants.
“They have the autonomy to implement their own policies for calendars, financial decisions, hiring, those sorts of things," Roemer said. She added, however, that she hoped the charter organization had spoken to teachers and parents before making the decision.
"With autonomy comes responsibility to ensure you’re working very closely with teachers and students and families to make sure the decisions really do serve them topmost and foremost,” she said.
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Nationally, the trend toward four-day school weeks is gaining traction, although mostly in rural areas, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education. Advocates of the shorter week claim it can save on operating costs, like busing and utilities, and that it attracts teachers.
By June 2018, 25 states had at least one district using a four-day school week, totaling at least 550 districts nationwide, the center found.
At least two of those districts are in Louisiana. Other districts, including Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s old district in East Feliciana Parish, tried it and ditched it.
East Feliciana switched to a four-day week in the 2007-08 school year. But Lewis added back the fifth day for the 2013-14 school year. He estimated it would cost the roughly 1,700-student district $150,000 each year, according to The Advocate.
The Orleans Parish school district is apparently not taking a position on Friends of King’s plan. The Louisiana Department of Education doesn’t track whether school districts use a four- or five-day calendar. The state’s instructional requirements are based on a minimum number of minutes, not days.
OPSB Communications Director Tania Dall said the district contacted all families who were newly placed in a Friends of King school during the last round of OneApp, as well as those who have applied for the upcoming round, to let them know about the change.
Families who are unhappy with the calendar can apply through the second round of OneApp or transfer to an open seat at another school between July and the end of September, according to another spokeswoman.
“While the organization has the right to make this decision, we continue to be mindful of the impact on families,” Dall wrote. “Our accountability office has also verified that the school has notified all of the current families."
Avoyelles Parish, about 140 miles northwest of New Orleans, is moving to a four-day school week this fall. Caldwell Parish already runs on that calendar.
The Vermilion Parish School Board discussed moving to a four-day week earlier this month. Superintendent Jerome Puyau estimated the 9,260-student district would save 2 to 5 percent on utility costs and diesel fuel, but he said he would not recommend the switch to his board.
“The potential savings are between $54,000 and $135,000,” he wrote in an email. However, he noted the district would lose about $1 million in federal child nutrition funding because it would be serving fewer meals to students.
Once a district makes the decision to drop a day, the next choice is whether to eliminate Mondays or Fridays.
Avoyelles Parish is eliminating Mondays in its 2019-20 calendar.
Two Oklahoma educators — where the four-day week has taken off in the face of statewide budget cuts — praised the four-day week in a column for Education Week. They advocated for Fridays off.
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“For example, we are no longer losing hours of instruction time to Friday athletic absences,” they wrote.
Washington, the lawyer for Friends of King, said the charter organization is still hashing out details about the Monday programming, including what classes or activities will be offered, the hours it will be implemented and how much the organization will charge parents.
She said that some nonprofit organizations have expressed interest in partnering with the schools to hold classes or other enrichment, and that it is possible the charter organization will offer scholarships or other aid as needed.
“It’s really exciting,” Washington said. “It’s been a long time thinking about it, and researching best practices.”