How Long Must a School Day and School Year Last?

How Long Must a School Day and School Year Last?
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Last updated: April 2007

The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.


How long is the school day supposed to be? It seems like kids have many days off and half-days, are there any regulations regarding these? Also, is there any requirement about when the school year must begin and end?


The legal minimum for an Illinois public school year is 176 days of “pupil attendance.” If a school doesn’t meet that minimum, they lose 1/176th (.56818%) of their state funding for each day they fall short.

The Illinois School Code says that “each school board shall annually prepare a calendar for the school term . . . providing a minimum term of at least 185 days to insure 176 days of actual pupil attendance.”

An official, full school day must last at least 5 “clock hours.” However, crowded schools with “multiple sessions” during the day can get approval for a 4 clock hour day to count as a full day.

Certain short days can also count as full days. The first and last days of school, for example, automatically count as full days, regardless of their length. The “first day of pupil instruction”—which apparently can be different from the first day of school—can also count as a full day, even if it is short.

Additionally, 2 days a year with only 3 clock hours of instruction can count as full days, but only if the teachers stick around at least another 2 hours for parent-teacher conferences.

Schools with longer school days can also “bank” extra time spent in class, over and above the 5 hours-a-day minimum, and apply that saved up time in 2 hour increments to an occasional 3 hour day. That short day then counts as a full day. With advance approval, there is no limit on how many of these “school improvement days” can be counted toward the minimum of 176 days of attendance per school year.

With a longer school day and the right planning, then, a school can schedule a lot of 3 hour days.

The School Code permits a maximum of 4 full day “teacher institutes” during the school year, which kids get off. Those don’t count as pupil attendance days. Those 4 extra days, along with an allowance for 5 inclement weather days, turns the 176 days of pupil attendance into the required school term of 185 days.

That 185 day term could begin and end any time, although the School Code hints that late August to early June is standard.

Illinois first dictated the length of the school year in 1883, when school attendance became mandatory. Then, all 8 to 14 year olds had to attend school at least 12 weeks per year. Most schools apparently exceeded that minimum, so most kids didn’t really run free 9 months a year. Today, however, the minimum school year length has effectively become the maximum.  Few, if any, schools keep going once they have logged their 176 days.

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