SALT LAKE CITY — Park Valley School, a K-10 school in rural Box Elder County, will ask the full Utah State Board of Education Friday for a waiver of the state's school attendance rule so it can offer four-day school weeks beginning this fall.
Hallie Kunzler, one of two licensed teachers at the school of 39 students, told the State School Board's Law and Licensing Committee Thursday that she believes school attendance will increase if the waiver is granted.
"All of our students are on their family ranches and many of them miss a substantial amount of time working on their ranches, whether that’s branding, shearing, moving cows, whatever," said Kunzler, who teaches grades 6-10.
"We have a couple of students who miss anywhere from 17 to 20 days per trimester, which is only 60 days (long) so they’re missing about a third of their class due to working their family ranch because their families need them."
State school board rules requires local education authorities to conduct school a minimum of 990 hours a year and 180 days each year. However, board policy also allows schools to apply for waivers.
Kunzler said teachers and school district officials met with area families to discuss the possibility of applying for a waiver, and many families said they would attempt to consolidate some of their ranch work on Fridays and weekends so children could attend school more consistently.
"They’ve all come back and said that they would be willing to do that if we are willing to look at the four-day school week," Kunzler said.
The school, which Kunzler describes as "extremely rural," is located in the northwest quadrant of Box Elder County, one of the largest counties in Utah in terms of square miles.
Melissa Morris, the school's head teacher who teaches grades K-5, said parents in the area are highly supportive of the change and have been asking officials to seek the waiver for three years.
“So our parents that we have right now are very supportive. Most of them went to school using the four-day week," Morris said.
The school had a four-day week prior to 1996, when it moved to a five-day week after the State School Board changed the attendance standard in the spring of 1995 at the direction of then-State Superintendent of Instruction Scott Bean.
At the time, Bean said school activities were dictating the academic program for Utah students. Bean even recommended financial penalties for schools that ran afoul of the standard then adopted by the board.
More than 20 years later, State School Board members said they support giving school districts the flexibility they need.
"I trust local school boards and superintendents to make decisions, especially for an area that is as rural as that. Especially, the travel for some of these kids must be pretty significant, if they’re having to travel 40 miles to go into school and things like that. Let’s get this so you guys can have that four-day week," said board member Scott Neilson.
The Law and Licensing Committee voted unanimously to send the matter to the full state board for its consideration on Friday.