The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
How long must the school day be? It seems like kids have many days and half-days off. Are there any rules about this? Are there rules about the length of the school year?
An Illinois public school year is 176 days of “pupil attendance.” Schools that do not meet the minimum lose 1/176th (.56818%) of their state funding for each day they fall short.
Every year, each school board must create a calendar for the school term. There must be 185 days on the calendar. This is to make sure each child goes to school for 176 days.
A full school day must last at least 5 hours. Crowded schools with more than one session can get approval for a 4-hour day.
Certain short days can also count as full days. For example, the first and last days of school count as full days if they are short. The first day of teaching can also count as a full day.
Twice a year, a 3-hour day can count as a full day. That is only if the teachers stay for another 2 hours of parent-teacher conferences.
Schools that are in session for more than 5 hours per day can save the extra hours. The saved up time can be put toward a 3-hour day. The extra hours must be added in 2-hour blocks. Then, the short days will count as full days.
There is no limit on how many combined days count toward the 176 days of the school year. Schools can schedule a lot of 3 hour days with a longer school day and the right planning.
IL School Code allows up to 4 full day “teacher institutes” during the school year. Kids get these days off. They do not count as pupil attendance days. Those 4 days, plus 5 emergency days, and 176 days of attendance make the full school term of 185 days.
The 185 day term may begin and end any time. Though, the School Code suggests late August to early June is standard.
Illinois first decided on the length of the school year in 1883. This was when school became mandatory. Then, all 8 to 14-year-olds had to attend school for 12 weeks per year. Most schools went longer. They did not want kids running free 9 months a year. Today, the minimum school year length has become the maximum. Very few schools keep going once they get to 176 days.