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.

Pat McDonald can be reached at (570) 888-9643 ext. 228 or Follow Managing Editor Pat McDonald on Twitter @PatMcDonaldMT.

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