Pennsylvania Considers ‘Cyber Snow Days’ to Make Up Lost Time

Pennsylvania schools may see an end to real, no-responsibility snow days this year.

Last week, acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq announced the Flexible Instruction Days pilot program, allowing schools the flexibility to use non-traditional teaching methods on regularly scheduled school days when inclement weather may prevent a typical school day.

“As we continue to advance through the 21st century, our education system is adapting to and actively using technology for the delivery of instruction and educational materials,” Dumaresq said in a prepared statement. “The Flexible Instructional Days program offers schools the option to deliver instruction through the use of digital technology when students are prevented from physically being in the classroom.”

The Public School Code for the state requires 180 days of school for each school year.  The code also states that students in grades 1-6 receive 900 instruction hours, and those in grades 7-12 receive 990 hours.

The new program requires schools to send documentation to the Department of Education, including a summary of the school’s intentions concerning overall management of the program, curriculum and instruction, and how the school plans on giving technological access and support to both students and teachers, with greater attention given to accommodating special education students.

Schools may participant through an online program or remain offline.  If the program is online, schools must offer an alternative for those students who cannot connect due to lack of power or technology issues, such as assigning homework prior to bad weather.

“This is a great opportunity to keep things on track in the event that weather would force school to close,” Baldwin-Whitehall School District Superintendent Randy Lutz said. “With snow days it’s always a challenge to keep things like graduation on pace.”

Lutz said the district had four snow days last year, as well as eight or nine delays.

The new program would not be able to exceed five days of use, without approval by the DOE.

Many educators are looking forward to the opportunity, but wish they had more time to plan.  Because the school year has already started, they are unsure if they have enough time to put a practical plan together for this coming winter.

“It does not look like school districts can just patch a simple plan together,” he said. “It’s going to take serious thought and planning…The flexibility is nice, but you have to make sure schools are maintaining quality.”

While some schools already issue laptops to each student, others need more time to create actual lesson plans as opposed to busywork.  Many districts are using this first year to create these plans and say they will begin to implement the virtual snow days next year.

The program is limited to a few districts this year, but if successful the program may be expanded in future years.