The Uniontown Area School District has positioned itself to potentially add flexible instructional days, though school officials currently view the option as a “logistical nightmare.”
The state’s Flexible Instructional Day (FID) program was signed into law over the summer and allows Pennsylvania schools to give students the opportunity to learn from home rather than canceling school completely for snow days or other unexpected closures.
On Tuesday, the Uniontown school board approved for the district to develop an FID program and apply to the state Department of Education for approval to operate the program in the 2019-20 school year.
However, said Superintendent Dr. Charles Machesky, the district will further explore the feasibility of implementing the program, which poses a multitude of difficulties.
“We asked the board to apply for this, and just because we applied for it doesn’t mean we’re going to implement it,” said Machesky. “There is a lengthy, lengthy list (of requirements).”
According to Machesky, on days designated for flexible instruction, the district is obligated to open school buildings, staff nurses and teachers, maintain individualized education programs (IEPs), document attendance, provide cyber security and tech support and ensure students are receiving five hours of daily instruction, regardless of whether students attend school or stay home.
The district would have to communicate to the school community whether it is conducting a flexible instructional day or cancelling school for a traditional weather day.
In addition, the district would need to enact memorandums of understanding with various employee groups and contractors, including teachers, secretaries, custodial-maintenance staff, cafeteria staff and busing companies.
Machesky said Uniontown officials were in contact with McGuffey School District, which participated in a pilot program last year to test the waters of the FID program. The preliminary trial resulted in 75% of students physically attending school on flexible instructional days in the rural Washington County school district.
Districts can only use flexible instructional days five times per year. Flexible instructional days can include online or offline learning or both.
According to the bill, schools can use flexible instructional days to avoid closures due to weather, building repairs or threats against schools. The bill also allows school districts to avoid shortening holiday and spring breaks and tacking on extra days at the end of the year to make up for snow days.
Machesky said Uniontown will watch how other schools in the Intermediate Unit 1 tri-county service area implement the program before moving forward.
“It looked good on paper. It’s something that the state is very supportive of,” said Machesky. “It seems like it would be overwhelming, but I do want to put this in place so we have time between now and the first snow day.”
Schools will receive notification from the state regarding their applications by Nov. 1. If accepted, the FID program is in place for a three-year period and may be renewed.