Eagle County School District students attend class fewer days than some neighboring districts

Colorado requires grades 1-5 to have 990 hours of teacher-pupil instruction for grades 1-5 and 1,080 hours for grades 6-12

Voters in the Eagle County School District Tuesday
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

In the Eagle County School District, students attend 168 days of class, a figure called “contact days.”

That number seems low to some parents, especially parents who may have moved to Colorado from a state that requires a higher number of contact days.

At a town hall meeting over the summer, Rep. Meghan Lukens, who represents Eagle County in the state legislature, fielded comments from one of those parents.

“It seems like our students have a lot of time out of school,” the attendee said.

Lukens, an educator who is co-teaching a civics course at Steamboat Mountain School this fall, sympathized with the attendee, saying she is aware of the feeling “like students were just in school for two days, and now there’s a professional development day,” she said.

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School boards in Colorado set the required number of days for students, and Eagle County’s 168 contact days are fewer than many other districts in the state. Summit School District has 174 days, Aspen School District has 175, Denver Public Schools has 174, Mesa County Valley School District has 170, and Aurora Public Schools and Steamboat Springs School District have 169.

At Eagle County School District, a calendar committee made up of staff and parents releases new calendars every three years based on a survey sent out to parents.

“The committee uses this information to put the calendar together before presenting it to the board who then votes on it,” said Matthew Miano, chief communications officer for Eagle County School District.

That committee works within the framework of state law, and in Colorado, only 160 days are required by the law. Of the 41 states that have requirements on the number of days students are in school, Colorado is the lowest behind Minnesota, which requires 165. Thirty states have requirements of 180 days or more.

That means by having one of the fewest requirements of contact days in Colorado, Eagle County puts itself high in the ranking for fewest nationwide due to Colorado’s low requirements.

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Lukens said Colorado makes up for the low number of contact days by requiring a higher number of instructional hours.

Colorado requires grades 1-5 to have 990 hours of teacher-pupil instruction for grades 1-5 and 1,080 hours for grades 6-12 while Florida, for example, has 180 required contact days, but only requires 720 hours for grades K-3, and 900 hours for grades 4-12.

“Basically it kind of evens out and means we have longer days than other states,” Lukens said.

The last time the Colorado legislature examined contact days, Dick Lamm was governor. That’s according to Jeremy​ Meyer, the director of communications for the Colorado Department of Education.

“However, at that time, the legislature actually decreased the number of days from 172 to 160 days,” Meyer noted.

House Bill 1111, passed in April of 1986, changed the previous minimum established under Colorado’s Public School Finance Act of 1973.

Students at Avon Elementary School gather in the gym for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 21, in Avon.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

At the time, schools throughout the state had been submitting shortened calendars to the State Board of Education for special approval, with the Steamboat Pilot reporting that by the mid-1980s, 70 to 80 Colorado school districts had already moved to a four-day school week or a 168-day school year.

“Alternative calendars were used for energy conservation,” the Pilot reported in May of 1986. “This bill allows school districts more freedom with the calendar without having to go through the state.”

The Steamboat Springs School District, in 1986, reduced its calendar to 172 days from 180 days and the Park School District in Estes Park, in 1987, reduced its calendar by 20 days, to 160 from 180.

But, like today, some in the community began questioning the amount of days that kids were in school.

The issue packed the chambers of the Park School District in 1987, resulting in the district’s biggest meeting in five years, the Estes Park Trail Gazette reported, with parents in the room overwhelmingly against the shortened calendar.

“If we were giving them more expertise than they really needed, it certainly wasn’t apparent,” former Estes Park High School teacher Bob Slizeski wrote of his students in a letter to the Gazette in 1987.

Today, Estes Park School District uses a 170-day calendar for middle and high school students and a 164-day calendar for elementary school students.

For Eagle County parents who would like to see kids in school for more than the district’s 168 contact days, the time to get involved will come next year, when the school calendars for 2025-2026, 2026-2027 and 2027-2028 will be decided, Miano said.

“The committee will convene at some point during the 24/25 year and begin the next three-year calendar discussion,” Miano said.

Lukens said there’s also one more factor to consider in the mountains of Colorado.

“We allocate extra days, assuming there will be snow days in the state of Colorado, but I know that in our mountain towns where we can navigate snow a little easier … we like to go to school no matter what,” she said.

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