Dear Legal Mailbag:
This February has been a rough month for weather, and my school district is struggling to nail down an answer to this question because we think the legislation has changed in recent years:
What (if any) is the required minimum number of hours that constitutes a school day?
For some reason, notions of a three and one-half- or even a four-hour minimum school day ring a bell and have us thinking. We want to make sure our current early dismissal and half-day schedules meet the daily minimum hours threshold, if there is one. We certainly want each day to count!
As a faithful reader, I know that, if anyone knows the answer, Legal Mailbag does! We will greatly appreciate any guidance Legal Mailbag can provide!
Watching the Weather
You are not imagining things. Some years ago, Connecticut did have a “minimum school day.” Students had to be in school for at least four hours for the day to count as one of the 180 required school sessions. That changed in 1996, when the General Assembly eliminated the concept of a minimum school day. The concern was that school administrators were being tempted to keep students in school even as bad weather rolled in just to meet the four-hour requirement. If students were sent home early because of a threatening storm after only three hours, for example, the day would not count toward the required 180 days of instruction.
Now, the requirements focus on the number of hours of instruction over the course of a year, and not the number of hours on any particular day. As has long been the case, schools in Connecticut must provide at least 180 days of “actual school sessions” each year. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15. These days must be scheduled before June 30 each year because the statutes define the school year as running from July 1 through June 30. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-259. Though school districts are still required to hold 180 school day sessions, they may now count a shortened day, even if it is less than four hours of actual school work, as one of those sessions. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-16. Also, a day may still count as one of the 180 days of required instruction for kindergarten students even if a morning or afternoon kindergarten session is canceled due to weather conditions. Id.
As noted above, the statutes no longer specify the number of hours required for a school day to count. Rather, there is an overall requirement to assure that students receive no fewer than 900 hours of “actual school work” each year (450 hours for students in half-day kindergarten), though no more than seven hours can be counted in any one day. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-16. In monitoring compliance with the 900- or 450-hour requirements respectively, the State Department of Education will not count passing time, lunch time, recess and other non-instructional time. In addition, all students must be offered a lunch period of at least twenty minutes, and the regular school day for elementary students must include a total of twenty minutes of “time devoted to physical exercise.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-221o.
As it turns out, you are right that statutory provisions requiring a minimum school day changed — twenty-five years ago! Now, if your school district complies with these requirements, you will be all set, notwithstanding your early dismissals or delayed openings on any particular day.
Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.