North Star supports online alternative to snow days

March 16, 2019

Officials from at least one local school supports the idea of online assistance in making up excessive snow days during the school year.

During a meeting on Tuesday, North Star school board members voted 7-to-1 to pass a resolution supporting the passage of state House Bill 2690, which institutes flexible instructional days. The program calls for students to receive online assignments from teachers during canceled days of school, including snow days.

“FIDs allow the canceled school days to be counted toward the 180 days of instruction currently required under law — providing greater flexibility to school entities, especially during inclement weather — while ensuring students continue to learn,” former state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, from York, stated in a memo introducing the bill in October.

In 2014 the Pennsylvania Department of Education did a trial run of the program with 12 school districts in York and Lancaster counties.

After two snow days, these programs would start to limit the amount of days districts would have to reschedule.

“(Students) who had internet service would log into a program to get their work and make up their work at home,” North Star Superintendent Louis Lepley said. “Those who didn’t have the service, schools had to provide a packet at different times of the year so that students could stay on task.”

Lepley said North Star was one of the schools considered for the program’s second trial period. The trials were put on hold once legislators decided to introduce the bill, which was referred to the House education committee in October.

“I was hoping to be in the pilot program, to give it a run and see how it works out,” he said.

Board member Robbie Bloom, who voted against the resolution, said he had concerns about taking away days of in-class instruction with teachers. Bloom added that he feels kids get better instruction from being in the classroom, rather than receiving online assignments at home.

“I asked three of my teacher friends what they thought of this ... all three of them sort of agreed from a student’s education perspective that these flex days are not in the best interest of the student, because you are missing that inside-school instruction,” he said.

School board member Kathy Shaffer, a former social studies teacher, said that while she agrees that in-class instruction is preferred, online resources give teachers a way of preparing students for standardized testing.

“Part of the constraints that occur in-classroom is that if you have five days before your test, if you miss five days of instruction that you are going to make up at the end of the year, it’s still five days of instruction that you could have done something to prepare your kids,” she said.

North Star is already petitioning the state to make up two of it’s snow days on Saturdays for seniors, one in April and one in mid-May, with officials not certain on the graduation date.

“I know a lot of the seniors were hoping that they could get the Saturdays like they did in previous years so they could graduate and be done with it,” Cara Augustine, a North Star junior and the board’s student representative, said at the meeting.

Officials said passing the resolution does not bind the district to be part of the program if it becomes law, and school districts could still opt out of the program. But Lepley said the program gives the district options other than lengthening the school year due to inclement weather.

“I know (the school) is the safest, warmest place to be, they’ll get two meals when they get here and I want them here, but then you have got to get them here safely. So it’s that fine line” he said.

See a copy of state House Bill 2690 at www.dailyamerican.com.