The Armstrong School District school board members voted to apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for use of Flexible Instruction Days.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joshua Williams said the State passed legislation to permit schools to alter their schedule in cases of emergency without having to change the school calendar and have it still count as one of the 180 instructional days mandated by law.
“When we had the mold issues out at West Shamokin last year, we requested forgiveness for some of that time from the state and subsequently received it. So Flexible Instructional Days provide a different mechanism to fulfill our instructional obligations in that regard by an opportunity for students to not necessarily be on site to receive instruction,” Williams stated.
Under flex days, one scenario would be for students to go online and download assignments in Math, Science, English, and Social Studies. They would complete assignments that would have to be turned in within three days in order for that student to be considered “in school” for that day. Williams said that is only one scenario.
“The program has been piloted by several school districts throughout the state over the past several years,” he said. I know at least 2 years I believe, maybe 3. So some people have had it in place and they’ve been using it.
Butler Area School District also this week approved application to the State for flex days. In their plan, students would receive a take-home kit of work required to be completed in order for the day to be counted as a day of instruction.
In Armstrong, Williams said there would be a mix.
“Part of the requirements set forth by the state was that instruction or assignments had to be provided both digitally and on paper. So, typically, what schools have done, is to provide access to those assignments prior to the flex day. They would have a few days to make-up the assignment,” he said.
Because the assignments would be created in advance, they would be general in nature.
“It would be an assignment based on standards for the course, but not necessarily sequential. By sequential I mean that if we studied integers in Math on Tuesday, this assignment may not be what would have been in the Wednesday assignment.”
That is a problem, according to School Board Director Douglas Smith.
“English is one of their classes. First of all, it’s a 15-minute class for flex days. Our example states, ‘Think of the last time you were criticized, draw your reaction.’ There’s a blank sheet there and they want you draw something, and it asks them to write ‘How do you feel?’ “ Smith summarized as one of the reasons he and Director Tim Scaife, a former teacher, voted no.
“Student attendance will also be determined by verification and completion of the lesson or assignment during the assignment window,” Smith continued. “So, I contend, you can be in Florida, Armstrong can have a snow day, you can come back 2 days later, pick up the assignment, do the assignment and you get credit for the attendance.”
“These some of the obvious drawbacks,” Williams noted. “You’re in non-sequential lessons. Obviously there’s a lot of work that’s going to have to go into this to make it work right, so there’s a time-investment on the teacher part. Different schools have done different things; it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some schools have had teachers come in for the half-days, some have not. I know of one school district that actually permitted students on those days to come to the building at 10 o’clock through the end of the day with parent transportation. So, there’s a lot of flexibility in how it’s being used and implemented which obviously prompts a lot of discussion on our part about what we want that to look like.”
Williams said that regardless of the option for flex days, it still will not take the place of snow days on the calendar.
“In some of the discussions I’ve had with the PA Department of Education, it was my sense that this option was to stem some of the requesting for emergency days. If we ran out of snow days and still needed to call off, then maybe snow days could be a part of that, but the fact still remains that the law says you have to build some snow days into your calendar. But it doesn’t say how many.”
School districts had until the end of September to apply for permission to use flex days. Final determination by the Department of Education is due by November 1. ASD will know after that date if it has been approved.
Nevertheless, Williams does not see utilizing a flex day until he has met with his team and hammered out all of the details on how it will work.
“This is just the very preliminary part to provide the option,” he said. “We very well may not pursue it again or use it this school year.”
Williams said if they did reach an agreement and the school board approves, he doesn’t see it coming to fruition until at least the second semester of this school year.
“If we’re permitted to do this, then that will be something that gets discussed here at the Board level in the Fall as to whether we want to try and pursue and have this as an option for this school year or do we want to start to plan and build for the next school year.”
“Our interest was to have that as an option. This has not wholly been discussed to how it would be used or not used. Our interest in it at this point was entering into that discussion and then go from there with discussion about how that might work with our staff and so forth. Ultimately if it’s something the Board wants to utilize as a tool, then we’ll do that,” Williams said.
“The good news is the District will save $32,000 a day in busing,” Smith concluded.