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New state law aims to help schools in winter

A new Pennsylvania law may help Warren County School District deal with heavy weather. Then again, it may not do so in an equitable manner.

The district builds special days into its calendar each year to account for days lost to weather.

After Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 440 into law (as Act 64) this past Tuesday, the district will have some new options for working around snow days.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Education authorizes school entities to use a maximum number of FIDs (flexible instructional days) in a school year,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York). “During a FID, students do not physically attend school, but instead receive assignments at home from their teachers, who upload lessons online.”

“FIDs allow the canceled school days to be counted toward the 180 days of instruction currently required under law — providing greater flexibility to school entities, especially during inclement weather — while ensuring students continue to learn,” Phillips-Hill said.

The FID program had been operated under a limited three-year trial that expired at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

“Because of the overwhelming support from constituents and school districts about the successes of FIDs, my legislation permanently codifies the FIDs program into law,” Phillips-Hill said.

Using internet to bring lessons to students is potentially valuable, but there are concerns in Warren County School District.

“We have discussed this topic, both in the district, and at my superintendent meetings in the region,” WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “The idea is appealing. As we all know some winters can be very difficult in our county. It would be nice to know we have some flexibility with snow days.”

“That being said, I have some serious reservations with regard to equity,” Stewart said. “The last informal survey I recall, indicated between 20 and 25 percent of our students did not have access at home. Many of our students depend on the school to gain access to a dependable internet-accessible computer.”

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