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Cyber snow days: Pa. to end 'flexible instructional days' after 2018

Written by Gordon Rago/The York Daily Record | Feb 22, 2018 6:49 PM
636251044901230696-YDR-JP-031417-snow-2.jpg

Snow days have traditionally meant a day off from school, like these students had during a snowstorm last year. A state program has allowed some students in Pennsylvania to work from home for the last few years, but that program is set to expire. (Photo: File, York Daily Record)

(Undated) -- For the last few years, some Pennsylvania high school students were waking up on snow days with assignments from teachers.

The so-called Flexible Instructional Days (FIDS) allowed students to complete work assignments online from home, allowing administrators to cancel classes without losing a day of school in the state's eyes.

But the state's pilot program is set to expire after this year, and there are no plans as of yet to continue it, said Casey Smith, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

"This pilot program was implemented under the previous administration and, as such, is set to expire this year," Smith wrote in an email this week. "However, the Department remains engaged in discussions with lawmakers and stakeholders to provide schools with instructional options moving forward."

When asked to clarify, Smith wrote, "At this juncture, I can't speculate on what a new plan would look like, I can only confirm that discussions are occurring."

Students and parents who have been part of the cyber days appear to have generally supported the idea, especially at schools where their kids already have devices to do work online. 

Supporters also say it's a good way to not have snow days eat into summer break as well as a way to keep people off the roads during bad weather.

Districts that signed up for FIDS this year -- many of which were in Central Pennsylvania -- already had devices such as laptops or iPads that students used in classes.

The days allowed for a "continuity of education," Smith said of the pilot program. To participate, districts had to submit a formal plan that included when teachers would post assignments online and when students had to submit their work.

Out of the 12 Pennsylvania districts that are part of FIDS this year, five are in York and Lancaster counties, including Central York, Dallastown, Red Lion and Southern.

Central goes cyber

Central York used a cyber snow day on Jan. 30 and said in a letter to parents that the state Department of Education approved the district to use up to five FIDS. 

"We are planning to use these 'Flexible Instructional Days' throughout the remainder of this school year, as needed," the letter stated.

But about a week later, the district posted on Facebook that it would not use FIDS in the event of inclement weather.

"We have gathered feedback from all of our stakeholders - parents, faculty, staff, students, and community members - and are evaluating it to determine what worked best and opportunities for growth," school spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig commented in a Feb. 6 Facebook post.

The district said it is reviewing what parents and students had to say, but it's not clear what led to the change.

"We introduced the program last week and received a tremendous amount of feedback from families, teachers, staff, community and students," Randall Romig wrote on Feb. 6. "At this time, we believe it is best to continue reviewing some of the feedback and addressing specific concerns raised after using one day before proceeding with another Flexible Instructional Day or 'Cyber Snow Day.'" 

Randall Romig could not be reached for comment for this article.

In a newsletter sent last week, Central York said that the Department of Education had notified the district that it would not continue allowing use of FIDS beyond this school year.

The newsletter goes on to say that although it's approved for five days, "we do not intend to use this option again" in the event of inclement weather.

"Should this change, we will notify you directly," the newsletter says.

This story comes to us though a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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