Sledding

Children take advantage of a snow day off from school at Buchanan Park on Jan.  17, 2018.

Are we witnessing the snow day’s demise?

Not quite — at least not in Lancaster County, school officials told LNP.

Gov. Tom Wolf last week signed a bill into law that allows school districts to use up to five “flexible instructional days” during the academic year starting in 2019-20.

When schools are forced to close due to an emergency, districts with a state-approved plan may provide online instruction rather than losing one of the required 180 school days — and making it up later on.

The legislation was cosponsored by Lancaster County Republican Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin.

While many Lancaster County school officials say they’re intrigued by the idea, implementing such a program would involve significant roadblocks, they say.

“On the surface, it may sound like a worthwhile idea,” Donegal Superintendent Michael Lausch said. “However, there are several issues for which careful planning must occur in order to make flexible instructional days something that is considered in Donegal.”

Among the challenges, Lausch and others said, were students’ at-home internet access, serving students with special needs and English language learners, as well as creating assignments that fit the curriculum.

Bob Hollister, superintendent at Eastern Lancaster County School District, said he’s willing to “entertain the concept, especially in an extraordinary challenging weather year,” but he’s not rushing to adopt flexible instructional days.

“I do not believe this instruction is equal to students participating with peers and with teachers in lessons that are in sync with the current topic of study at any given time,” he said.

The new law states that schools may use a flexible instructional day under the following circumstances: a disease epidemic, hazardous weather conditions, a law enforcement emergency, inoperable school buses, or a damaged or unsafe school building.

Schools must apply to establish a program for flexible instructional days and provide a plan detailing how they will notify students, parents and staff when a flexible instructional day is used; how they’ll accommodate students with insufficient technology or internet access and students with special needs; and the responsibilities of students and staff.

Those plans must be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The law is similar to a three-year pilot program that ended after the 2017-18 school year in which 12 schools, including Lancaster Country Day School, participated.

In March, Todd Trout, assistant head of school at Lancaster Country Day, told LNP that flexible instructional days — or "cyber days," as the school calls them — have typically gone smoothly.

In the “very, very” rare occasion that a student lacks technology to complete assignments at home, the school has worked with families to address it, he said.

“For us, it has been a very effective way to allow us to continue with our academic program even when nature doesn’t cooperate,” he said.