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A few school boards across Western Canada have adopted the four-day school calendar. The idea has also gained traction in the U.S., especially among smaller, rural school districts.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

On top of new backpacks and school supplies, some parents whose children attend Ottawa-area schools will soon have another choice to consider: a four-day school week.

The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, a French Catholic board, is looking to pilot the compressed week at two of its elementary schools next fall – provided it receives provincial Ministry of Education approval. Kids would get the same number of instructional hours as their traditional five-day-schedule peers; it would just happen over a shorter school week.

“We strongly believe this will help overall with well-being and student success,” said Marc Bertrand, the board’s director of education. Two elementary schools would offer its families the choice between a four-day calendar and the regular five-day week.

It’s not unusual for boards to experiment with the school calendar where the number of instructional hours are redistributed, not reduced. A number of schools in Canada, for example, have year-round classes, which means students have a shorter summer break to prevent learning loss and more holidays dispersed throughout the year.

A few boards across Western Canada have adopted the four-day school calendar. The idea has gained traction in the United States, especially among smaller, rural school districts. Educators say it saves money, because it cuts down on busing costs, for example, and improves staff and student attendance. However, in many cases, families may have difficulty finding child care.

Mr. Bertrand said that in recent consultations, one question emerged among educators and families: How can the board help them achieve a better work-life balance or, in this case, a school-life balance?

More parents have flexible work schedules these days and remote work has become commonplace. A four-day calendar would give students and staff more time to spend with families, attend appointments or simply take time to rest.

For families that opt in, the school day would be extended by 38 minutes, and kids on the new calendar would start school one week earlier and end three days later in June.

“We’re not taking anything away,” Mr. Bertrand said. “We’ll offer the same quality instruction. It’s just an extra option for families.” He said the composition of classrooms would be determined by how many families choose the new calendar.

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Research on the benefits of a four-day school week are mixed. An analysis done by U.S.-based research group Rand Corporation found that school boards across that country reported cost savings as a major motivation. Parents said their children were less stressed, the shortened school week helped with extracurricular activities, and it allowed for more family time.

However, Christopher Doss, a policy researcher at Rand, said that the four-day week “is definitely a policy that has a lot of trade-offs.”

In the analysis, researchers found that student achievement did not climb as quickly as those who were on the traditional five-day schedule. American school districts extended their days with a four-week calendar but had fewer instructional hours over the course of the academic year, according to the research paper.

Grace Lee, a spokeswoman for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an e-mail that “students should continue to learn in school for five days a week with a focus on improving reading, writing and math, and expanding mental-health supports.”

In Alberta, Fort McMurray’s public school district considered compressing the school week in 2013 to cut costs. Trustees voted against it after parents expressed concern about how they would manage child care.

Michael Di Massa, a spokesman for the Elk Island Catholic Schools, said one of its schools in Camrose adopted the four-day model when it opened a decade ago, based on community feedback. “The preference for shorter weeks hasn’t changed among our school families, and their ability to spend more time together continues to be the largest benefit of four-day weeks,” he said.

The Boundary School District in Grand Forks, B.C., also rolled out the four-week model in all its schools about two decades ago. At that time, schools were seeing a significant decline in enrolment and the compressed calendar was adopted as an alternative to closing small remote schools to balance the budget, said Miranda Burdock, the district’s secretary-treasurer.

Schools meet instructional time set by the province by extending the school day.

Ms. Burdock said that anecdotally, the board has seen improvements to the mental health of staff and students, and there have been fewer employee absences for medical appointments. However, she acknowledged that families have to figure out child care on Fridays.

Sophie-Catherine Ménard, a parent with two children attending one of the proposed pilot schools in the Ottawa area, is unsure if her job would provide flexibility so she can opt for the four-day school week.

However, the proposed calendar would allow families to go a cottage earlier, for example, or spend time with grandparents, she said.

“It’s very innovative,” she said. “We just have to figure out if it’s a good fit for our family.”

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