Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1981 No. 6 -
Attorney General Ken Eikenberry


A school district may not, under existing law, comply with the provisions of RCW 28A.58.180 (one hundred-eighty day school year) by merely lengthening each school day and then operating only four days per week for the same number of weeks as before; however, the legislature could, constitutionally, authorize such a calendar.

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                                                                   March 9, 1981

Honorable Ren Taylor
St. Rep., 4th District
304 House Office Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGLO 1981 No. 6

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have requested our opinion on the following two questions:

            "(1) Is it permissible for a school district to operate its education program on a 4-day basis, if the school days are lengthened to insure the same amount of instruction time is provided as it would be in a 5-day program?

            "(2) If this is not permissible under current law, are there any constitutional constraints on authorizing school districts to adopt a 4-day instructional week, as described in the question above?"

            Under the law as it now exists, we believe your first question (as we understand it) must be answered in the negative.  However, in response to your second question, there would be no constitutional barrier to the enactment of amendatory legislation authorizing such a plan.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            Question (1):

            RCW 28A.58.180 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "All school districts in this state shall maintain school at least one hundred eighty days each school year as defined in RCW 28A.01.020: . . ."

            RCW 28A.01.020, in turn, provides that:

            "The school year shall begin on the first day of September and end with the last day of August:  PROVIDED, That any school district may elect to commence the minimum annual school term as required under RCW 28A.58.180 in the month of August of any calendar year and in such case the operation of a school district for such period in August shall be credited by the superintendent of public instruction to the succeeding school year for the purpose of the allocation and distribution of state funds for the support of such school district."

            In addition, there is a third statute to be noted, RCW 28A.01.010, which defines the term "school day" as follows:

            "A school day shall mean each day of the school year on which pupils enrolled in the common schools of a school district are engaged in educational activity planned by and under the direction of the school district staff, as directed by the administration and board of directors of the district."

            In order to comply with the above‑stated requirement of RCW 28A.58.180, school districts now generally operate on a schedule which involves, basically, thirty-six weeks  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] of instruction during a school year1/ with five "school days" of instruction per week.  Thirty-six weeks times five days equal one hundred-eighty days.

            Within the same statutory parameters, however, it would be entirely possible for a given school district to comply with the same one hundred-eighty day requirement by (for example) conducting school for forty-five weeks per school year on a four-day per week basis.  Again, forty-five weeks times four days per week equals one hundred-eighty days.  But that is not, as we understand it, what you here have in mind by your first question, as above stated.  Instead, as evidenced by your reference to the lengthening of school days, we take it that the plan you have in mind is one which would retain the same thirty-six week schedule as before but would, nevertheless, reduce the number of school days per week from five to four‑-with those days merely being longer, in terms of classroom or teaching hours, than before.

            Our difficulty with this proposal, and the basis for our negative answer to your first question, stems from the fact that a "school day" is not defined, by RCW 28A.01.010,supra, in terms of a given number of hours in each day.2/   And therefore, there is no basis, under the law as it now exists, for translating the one hundred-eighty day requirement of RCW 28A.58.180, supra, into some sort of a _______ school hours' requirement, instead.  Accordingly, even though the days might well be longer under the plan you have described, the ultimate result would necessarily be, quite simply, a school year of only one hundred forty-four school days (thirty-six weeks times four hours per week) and not the one hundred-eighty days which are required.

            Question (2):

            In response to your second question, however, the foregoing disposition of the matter under the law as it now exists is one based entirely upon the applicable statutes as  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] above quoted.  It is not, conversely, a disposition which we have arrived at by reason of some overiding constitutional necessity.

            It is true, of course, that there is, in Article IX, § 1 of our state constitution, a requirement that the state ". . . make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, . . ."  Accord,Seattle School Dist. v. State, 90 Wn.2d 476, 585 P.2d 71 (1978).  But, as the Court itself explained in that case, the means by which that constitutional mandate is to be met is essentially up to the legislature in its definition of what constitutes basic education.  We therefore have no qualms regarding the constitutionality of such statutory amendments as would be needed in order to permit those school districts desiring to do so to adopt such a school calendar as is contemplated by your questions.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Ordinarily from early September until mid-June, less Christmas and spring vacation periods and other school holidays.

2/Compare, in that respect, the present text of RCW 28A.01.010, supra, with the language of the statute as it read prior to enactment of the amendment contained in section 1, chapter 161, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.