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New Pa. law allows ‘flexible instruction’ on snow days

ATHENS — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed a bill into law that will allow school districts to turn snow days into school days by delivering lesson plans to students at home.

The three-year pilot program will let school districts opt in to what the state calls “flexible instruction days.” Under the new law, students must get and complete lessons at home so that the day will count toward the 180 days of instruction currently required annually.

The law caps a school’s flexible instruction days at five per school year.

The biggest obstacle for most schools will be students without reliable internet access at home. Athens Superintendent Craig Stage said the school district will look into the feasibility of the program over the next two months.

“It makes it challenging. It takes a little bit of work to do, so we’ll probably pull the teams together over the next couple months and see if we can actually accomplish that. We will probably look to have that figured out by the fall,” Stage said.

According to Stage, the state tried this a few years ago, but at that time Athens didn’t have one-to-one (every student having a piece of technology) and the district didn’t apply for the program.

“We’ve been hearing about it and they tried the pilot a couple years ago. You had to have one-to-one (and) you had to have guaranteed internet access for a certain percentage of all your students at home. So we didn’t apply a couple years ago, but we did look into it,” Stage said.

The new law says a school district that wants to participate must show the Department of Education how it will record attendance, institute the program and accommodate students who lack the right technology at home — such as internet access.

“We will probably break out our old plan because we kind of put something together and see how it fits to Governor Wolf’s new ideas with flexible instruction days,” Stage said.

Stage understands the push for the flexible instruction days but notes that students getting to interact with teachers is obviously the best thing for kids in every school district.

“It’s not a bad thing with the unpredictable weather we’ve had the last few years and having to push those days out. It would be great to have snow days be useful days of instruction,” said Stage. “I think the challenge is to make sure that those days are still valuable. Nothing beats having face-to-face time with your teacher. I think that’s the challenge that we have to internally discuss.”

One thing that could allow Athens to opt in to the program this time around is that the district is now one-to-one compliant.

“In our district, every student has access to a piece of technology. We are one-to-one, but we just don’t allow them to take them home and we’re actually rethinking that right now. If that changes, that would make this whole flexible instruction day much more feasible for us as a district,” said Stage.

Johnny Williams/Morning Times  

The summer heat could not stop local veterans and the residents of Elderwood at Waverly from having a great time during the senior care center’s summer picnic Friday, which featured a performance by local band Double Take. The performance was sponsored by the Sayre American Legion Post 246.

US adds solid 224,000 jobs, making Fed rate cut less certain

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers sharply stepped up their hiring in June, adding a robust 224,000 jobs, an indication of the economy’s durability after more than a decade of expansion.

The strength of the jobs report the government issued Friday could complicate a decision for the Federal Reserve late this month on whether to cut interest rates to help support the economy. Most investors have anticipated a rate cut in July and perhaps one or two additional Fed cuts later in the year. That scenario may be less likely now.

Stocks sold off early Friday before paring their losses later. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down a modest 43 points. But the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed to 2.04% from just under 2% before the jobs report was released, reflecting a view that the Fed might now be less inclined to cut rates multiple times.

June’s solid job growth followed a tepid gain of 72,000 jobs in May, a result that had fueled concerns about the economy’s health. But with June’s pace of hiring, employers have now added, on average, a solid 171,000 jobs for the past three months. Last month’s burst of hiring suggests that many employers have shrugged off concerns about weaker growth, President Donald Trump’s trade wars and the waning benefits from U.S. tax cuts.

“Although there are drags on the economy in 2019, the expansion should continue through this year,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “The doom and gloom was overblown.”

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% in June from 3.6% for the previous two months, reflecting an influx of people seeking jobs who were initially counted as unemployed. Average hourly wages rose 3.1% from a year ago.

Trump responded to Friday’s jobs report by tweeting, “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” But the strong hiring gains have lessened the case, at least for now, for the Fed to slash rates as Trump has repeatedly and aggressively pressed the central bank to do.

“If we had a Fed that would lower interest rates, we’d be like a rocket ship,” the president asserted to reporters in an appearance Friday. “But we’re paying a lot of interest, and it’s unnecessary. But we don’t have a Fed that knows what they’re doing.”

Last year, Fed officials raised rates four times, in part to stave off the risk of high inflation and in part to try to ensure that they would have room to cut rates if the economy stumbled.

On Friday, the Fed reiterated that it would act as necessary sustain the economic expansion, while noting that most Fed officials have lowered their expectations for the course of rates. The Fed’s statement came in its semiannual report on monetary policy.

In Friday’s jobs report for June, the hiring gains were broad. Construction companies added 21,000 workers after having increased their payrolls by only 5,000 in May. Manufacturers hired 17,000, up from just 3,000 in May. Health care and social assistance added 50,500 jobs. Hiring by transportation and warehousing companies increased 23,900.

The government sector was a major source of hiring, adding 33,000 jobs in June. Nearly all those gains were at the local level.

For Todd Leff, CEO of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, the resilience of the U.S. job market has provided both an opportunity and a challenge. With more Americans earning steady paychecks, demand for massages and facials has increased, and the company plans to add 60 locations this year and roughly 1,800 jobs. But the low unemployment rate has also made it hard to find and retain workers.

“We could hire 1,000 more employees today — if they were available,” said Leff, whose company has about 430 locations and is based in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

Investors have been turning their attention to the Fed, which has expressed concern about threats to the economy, especially the uncertainties from Trump’s trade wars, and about inflation remaining persistently below its 2% target level. A Fed rate cut, whenever it happens, would be its first in more than a decade.

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist for the consultancy MFR, said the likelihood of a Fed rate cut late this month is now slightly lower, though he still estimates that the federal funds rate — what banks charge each other — will be sharply lower by the end of next year.

Second individual charged in Walmart meth incident

ATHENS TOWNSHIP — A second individual is facing drug charges in connection with an incident that occurred at the Elmira Street Walmart parking lot back in May.

Billy Eugene Parsons, 29, of Towanda was charged with felony-grade possession with intent to deliver controlled substances and misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia for his role in the incident, which took place shortly before 5:30 p.m. on May 28.

According to Athens Township Police, the incident began when officers responded to a report from an off-duty officer of an unidentified woman smoking methamphetamine in the parking lot of Walmart.

The off-duty officer also noted that Nicole Lynn Brennan, who was also charged in this incident, was observed in the back seat of the vehicle.

After contacting Bradford County Dispatch, the off-duty officer observed Parsons enter the vehicle.

The off-duty officer then relayed to dispatch that he believed he had been recognized, as the vehicle “quickly backed out of the parking spot” and eventually left the property.

Officers of the Sayre Police Department, who were first to respond to the scene, then performed a traffic stop on the aforementioned vehicle in the Tractor Supply parking lot, police said.

Upon approaching the vehicle, officers observed Brennan slumped over typing on her cell phone and Parsons reaching throughout the passenger area, and eventually requested that all three individuals come out of the vehicle.

After observing a backpack on the front passenger floor of the vehicle, officers asked if it belonged to Parsons, and he stated that it did. Parsons also informed police that the backpack contained methamphetamine.

Some of the items discovered in the backpack were two weighing scales, several clear, small plastic baggies and approximately 10.5 grams of methamphetamine.

Parsons was arraigned and placed in the Bradford County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail. A preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Court Judge Larry Hurley is scheduled for July 16.

US to pursue citizenship question on census but path unclear

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department said Friday it will press its search for legal grounds to force the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, hours after President Donald Trump said he is “very seriously” considering an executive order to get the question on the form.

Trump said his administration is exploring a number of legal options, but the Justice Department did not say exactly what options remain now that the Supreme Court has barred the question at least temporarily.

The government has already begun the process of printing the census questionnaire without that question.

The administration’s focus on asking broadly about citizenship for the first time since 1950 reflects the enormous political stakes and potential costs in the once-a-decade population count that determines the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years and the distribution of some $675 billion in federal spending. It also reflects Trump’s interest in reshaping how congressional districts are drawn.

“You need it for Congress, for districting,” he said Friday. “How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”

Districts now are based on the total population. Some Republicans want them based on the population of eligible voters, a change that could disadvantage Democrats by excluding immigrants. The Supreme Court has left open the issue of whether districts based only on the population of eligible voters is constitutional.

The Census Bureau’s own experts have said a citizenship question would discourage immigrants from participating in the survey and result in a less accurate census that would redistribute money and political power away from Democratic-led cities where immigrants tend to cluster to whiter, rural areas where Republicans do well.

Trump, speaking as he departed the White House for a weekend in New Jersey, said he might take executive action.

“It’s one of the ways that we’re thinking about doing it, very seriously,” he said.

An executive order would not, by itself, override court rulings blocking the inclusion of the citizenship question. But such an action from Trump would perhaps give administration lawyers a new basis to try to convince federal courts that the question could be included.

“Executive orders do not override decisions of the Supreme Court,” Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement Friday. The organization is representing plaintiffs in the census lawsuit in Maryland.

Later Friday, Justice Department lawyers formally told U.S. District Judge George Hazel in Maryland the administration is not giving up the legal fight to add the citizenship question to the next census. But they also said it’s unclear how they will proceed, according to a court filing.

“They still say they don’t have clear instructions on what to do,” said Saenz, who took part in a conference call with the judge and lawyers for both sides in one of three lawsuits seeking to keep the question off the census. The other two are in New York and California.