Although summer is coming to a close, this year schoolchildren who are looking forward to a break from class in the form of a snow day or other unplanned day off may be disappointed.
Over the summer, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that would give schools the ability to enact “flexible instruction days” due to snow cancellations or other unexpected closures.
State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, cosponsored the bill.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Bartolotta, who said schools in her district – especially those in rural areas – would benefit from the opportunity the bill offers. “It’s a great way for students to be safe at home while continuing to work (on their studies).”
McGuffey School District got a unique preview of the program, as it served as one of the 13 school districts in the state that participated in the pilot program. The purpose of those limited districts participating was to tweak how the program would work to make it ready to go when it became law.
One of those challenges included how to handle teachers or students without strong WiFi signals or computers to complete school work. In addition, teachers in districts that opt into the program will have lesson plans already in place for students in case of a snow day.
As the representative for Greene County and other rural municipalities, Bartolotta said there are a number of options built into the program to handle these issues. For instance, students have up to five days to complete assignments given during a cyber snow day.
According to the bill, schools could use “cyber snow days” to avoid closures due to weather, building repairs, or threats against the school. The bill also allows school districts to avoid shortening holiday and spring breaks and tacking on extra days at the end of the year to make up for snow days.
Parents who have had vacations or family events derailed over unexpected make-up days will appreciate the prospect of not having to be concerned about it in the future.
“It’s also great for parents who are working,” said Bartolotta.
Joseph Bradley, superintendent of the Connellsville Area School District, said he feels the program could be a positive thing for schools and families.
“Families and staff that are aware that the calendar they receive at the beginning of the school year will be stable and not change will better be able to plan days that their child or in the case of staff may have to miss around that consistency. Therefore days needed to miss for appointments or family commitments will be diminished,” he said.
He added that the consistency would be a great tool for staff.
“An additional benefit would be our staffs would also be able to enjoy the same consistency thus potentially leading to the use of less substitute teachers and having our experienced, valued, professionals engaged with our learners more often.”
While Connellsville Area hasn’t committed to opting into the program, Bradley said it is definitely worth exploring.
“We are extremely concerned that (Department of Education’s) required deadline for potential applications provided for only an extremely short window to gather information, allow our professional staffs time to develop adequate appropriate plans, gain support from our bargaining units, educate our board for proper required approvals, and provide information to our families.”
The date for applications for the program is Sept. 1 – not long after school is back in session. Schools who apply will be notified by Nov. 1 if approved for the program.
In addition, Bradley said it’s important that the learning experience would be consistent and that limited connectivity problems are addressed.
Public school districts wouldn’t be the only schools eligible for the program charter cyber schools and private schools are also able to opt in to the program.