Uncomfortable questions on four-day school effects, but no clear answers

Over the last week, Idaho Education News has rolled out in-depth reports on the effects of four-day schedules on school district finances and student performance.

But what about the other parts of the community? Idaho Reports explored possible ripple effects of a four-day schedule, with uncomfortable questions about teen pregnancy and juvenile crime rates.

Crime rates dropping, but no clear answer why

While superintendents and teachers we spoke to said many families have child care or an at-home parent for their children on their days off, as well as activities for older students, many said that isn’t always true for everyone across the board.

So without structure or supervision from the school, do some kids find trouble on Fridays?

Like many questions surrounding four-day schedules, those answers are hard to come by. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tracks teen pregnancy rates, and Idaho State Police tracks juvenile crime, but each agency does so by county, not by school district.

To add to the confusion: While a handful of counties are now 100 percent on a four-day schedule, most counties in Idaho have a mix of four-day and five-day schools, making statistics unclear.

In interviews with Idaho Reports and Idaho Education News, county and school officials said anecdotally, they have seen no difference in teen pregnancies, and in many cases, juvenile crime numbers have gone down.

In an October 5 interview, Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman said if anything, juvenile crime has dropped since Council High School transitioned to a four-day week.

“A lot of it has to do with the kids are in school Monday through Thursday longer,” Zollman said. That extra hour of school time means there are fewer kids milling around in the afternoon before their parents get home.

Gooding County Sheriff Shaun Gough agreed. “We actually think it’s better,” he said.

But as with anything, correlation vs causality is tough to pinpoint. Zollman said another possible reason juvenile crime is down is there are simply fewer juveniles in the community.

Between 2000 and 2014, Council’s population has hovered between 800 and 840 people, but the percentage of households with children younger than 18 dropped from 27.4 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2010. It’s a slight difference, but one that Zollman has noticed.

“The working families are leaving the community,” he said.

Another factor: Juvenile crime is down everywhere statewide. In 2009, law enforcement agencies reported 13,944 charges against juvenile offenders, according to Idaho State Police. In 2013, that number dropped to 9,710.

No baby boom in four-day schools

Teen pregnancy is also hard to track. Like crime, rates have steadily dropped throughout Idaho, from 23.8 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-17 in 2008, to just 11.1 pregnancies per 1,000 in 2013.

Historically, those rates have varied county by county, too: Custer County, which has one high school in Mackay and buses other high school students to a four-day school in Challis, consistently has some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the state, while Gooding County, which now has four high schools on a four-day schedule, consistently has among the highest rates.

Pregnancy rates per 1,000 females ages 15-17

teenpregnancies
*Note: Idaho Reports chose a sampling of counties across the state in which the majority, or all, schools in the county are on a four-day schedule.
Source: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics

Superintendents and school leaders said they have seen no difference in pregnancy rates after transitioning to a four-day schedule, though nearly everyone interviewed by Idaho Reports said they hadn’t considered a possible link between the shift in high school schedules and teen pregnancy.

Hagerman Superintendent Eric Anderson, whose district just transitioned to the new schedule in the 2015-16 school year, said while child care was a concern for parents and school leaders, no one brought up pregnancy or juvenile crime.

Shoshone Superintendent Dr. Rob Waite has worked at three districts during their transitions to four-day schedules, and said teen pregnancy and juvenile crime was never a concern at any of his former school districts.

Mackay Superintendent Leigh Patterson said his 38 high schoolers stay involved with FFA, school government and athletics — enough activities to provide a distraction. “Here, our kids are busy,” Patterson said.

A shifting work culture

While the kids stay busy, their parents and their employers are adapting, offering more supervision for children.

In Hagerman, one of the community’s largest employers, Idaho Power, already operates on a four day schedule, Anderson said. Shoshone area employers also adapted, Waite said, and many parents take advantage of the free Friday to attend optional school activities with their students.

Anderson acknowledged that while Hagerman School District had a lot of input from parents before transitioning to a four-day schedule, not every family chimed in, and there could be single or working parents who struggle with child care. But a lack of communication between some families and schools isn’t unique to four-day schedules, he noted, and child care on Fridays was among the major concerns for district leaders before they made the transition.

In Bear Lake County, child care has always been on working parents’ minds. Sheriff Brent Bunn said most residents work rotating shifts, either at the hospital or at plants like Agrium and Simplot in neighboring counties.

“A lot of people in our area work shift work anyway so I don’t think there’s any impact on child care or anything like that,” Bunn said, adding several of his deputies have school-aged children, and they’ve never mentioned child care issues.

“For work wise, I think everybody enjoys having the three days off every week,” Bunn said. “Kids and staff as well.”

For more on Idaho’s four-day schools, catch up on the in-depth series from Idaho Education News. And don’t forget to watch the Nov. 20 episode of Idaho Reports, airing Friday at 8 pm or Sunday at 10:30 am MT/ 9:30 am PT on Idaho Public Television. You can also watch it online after it airs on idahoptv.org.

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