Sep 29 2014

Pennsylvania Schools Embrace 'Cyberday' Policy for Snow Days

Students can work from home during harsh winter storms, thanks to a new pilot program the state announced this month.

Pennsylvania public schools are piloting a virtual-classroom initiative to make up for instruction time lost during snow days.

Last winter was particularly difficult for Pennsylvania schools. As EdTech reported in February, Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School, in Drexel Hill, Pa., used a snow day to try out a cyberday, leveraging the school’s 1-to-1 initiative that was already in place. Instead of trudging through harsh conditions, students worked on classroom assignments at home using their school-provided tablets.

At the time, the school viewed the cyberday as an experiment. But this month the state's Department of Education announced a similar strategy: the Flexible Instructional Days pilot program.

“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,” acting Secretary of Education Carolyn 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 program goes into effect Nov. 3 and, with winter approaching, is likely to be used soon.

Pennsylvania's Public School Code requires schools to provide at least 900 hours of instruction for grades one through six, and 990 hours for grades seven through 12. The program allows these hours to be supplemented with online and offline resources.

The program helps districts that suffer from winter storms, but it won't completely alter school-calendar planning. As a result, districts are being advised by the state to continue building make-up days into their calendars.

Schools can use up to five flexible instructional days in a school year. After that, the school must get permission from the Department of Education to use more cyberdays.

Pennsylvania schools that elect to participate in the pilot program must submit an outline of their educational plans to show that they meets curriculum and instruction standards set by the state and federal government. Students and teachers also must have adequate access to the necessary devices.


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