A working alternative to snow days may soon be a reality for PENNCREST School District.

Flexible instruction days, introduced to Pennsylvania earlier this year following the passage of Act 64, allow students to work on assignments from home in the case of severe weather, safety emergencies or unexpected building repair needs. Taking a flexible instruction day prevents districts from canceling and having to make up the day later in the school year.

PENNCREST Superintendent Timothy Glasspool introduced the idea to the board Monday, claiming he had a week to put a flexible instruction day program application together for the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). The application included several example lessons that students would complete at home. The state is expected to decide on the applications on Nov. 1, Glasspool said.

Districts must develop a plan that is approved by both the local school board and the PDE. If approved, the district is permitted up to five flexible instruction days.

"The kids that don't have iPads are going to go home with a packet at the beginning of the year," Glasspool said. "If we have a flexible instruction day, this is unit one. When you come back into school, you turn it in. Teachers are available by phone or internet, should you have internet access. It's all outlined in the plan."

Upon board member Gerry Deane questioning how this affects students who attend the Crawford County Career & Technical Center, Glasspool said the institution would have to submit its own application to be a part of the program. He also said it was "still to be determined" how it would work if PENNCREST calls a flexible instruction day but the technical center does not.

Board member Jason Bakus was skeptical of students working on assignments at home during a flexible instruction day. Glasspool noted in the plan that students have a few days afterward to turn in their work and get help that they may have needed. 

"The conversation goes like this, 'Is a flexible instruction day equal to a make-up day?'" Glasspool said. "Then someone said, 'Is it equal to a make-up day on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend?' I don't know which is a better day."

Board member Robert Gulick noted there are some states that don't make up any snow days and thought the flexible instruction days would reduce make-up days at the end of the year and allow students to get an early start on summer jobs.

"I get it, but why can't we leave stuff alone?" Bakus said. "We already don't get our kids enough education and enough time in the classrooms as it is. We'll just keep taking days. The next thing you know we'll be taking 10 days off."

Deane was also concerned about the plan's expectation that teachers and 12-month staff members would still report to the school building, thinking of harsh winter conditions. Glasspool said the teachers could determine if conditions were unsafe, and they could be available from home by phone or online. He also conceded that the state may not have the numbers to individually approve more than 500 school district and career and technical center applications for the program by Nov. 1.

Bakus reiterated his concerns that the appeal of flexible instruction days when students and faculty could stay home without consequence of having a make-up day would lead to their more frequent use. Deane added that lawmakers who created the program needed to live in northwestern Pennsylvania and consider the snow the region receives.

"We did our due diligence," Glasspool said. "The central office talked about it. We did the best we could."

PENNCREST School Board is expected to vote on the application at its next meeting, which is at 7 p.m. Thursday in the PENNCREST board room, 18741 Route 198, near Saegertown.

Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at tdague@meadvilletribune.com.

Editor's note: This story has been edited on Sept. 11 to clarify Gulick's comments about the end of the school year.

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