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Facing a staff shortage, Independence considers a 4-day school week

Fourth grade students at Spring Branch Elementary in Independence, Missouri, recently dissected flowers during a science exploration on botany.
Independence School District
Fourth grade students at Spring Branch Elementary in Independence, Missouri, recently dissected flowers during a science exploration on botany.

The Independence school board launched an exploration Tuesday night into a possible four-day week — as schools across the country face an increasing shortage of teachers and other workers.

Superintendent Dale Herl said cutting out one school day a week would apply to students, if not necessarily to district employees. It would follow a practice that’s catching on with rural schools in the region.

“All you have to do is turn on the TV,” he said. “It seems like the last week to two weeks every other story, whether it's on CNN, or locally, that they're talking about teacher shortage, bus driver shortage, which we're experiencing.”

The district announced last week that it would only be able to provide transportation to middle and high school students who live more than 1.5 miles from their school because it can’t find enough bus drivers. The previous limit was one mile.

Herl said the schedule change will not take place this upcoming school year and would need a “ton of planning.” He said one of the biggest questions people have about the switch to a four-day week is child care.

“So that’s one of those things that we’ll put a lot of thought into. But I think COVID changed a lot of things,” Herl said. “More people work from home. More people have flexible work schedules.”

Yet Herl emphasized that a shorter week for schoolchildren wouldn’t necessarily mean a shorter work week for staff. He said an additional day off could be used as a workday for things like professional development.

The move followsa trend of more Missouri schools adopting a shorter school week over the last decade. This school year,25% of school districts in Missouri will be in class only four days a week.

Herl said there wasn’t a school district near Independence that had adopted the four-day week, but that the largest school district to adopt the schedule is the Warren County School District, which has more than 3,000 students. Independence has more than 13,000 students.

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