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Carlisle Area School District

Pictured is the entryway to Carlisle High School.

A snow day off from school may soon be a day to do online assignments from home for Carlisle Area School District students.

The school board recently approved a resolution in support of a District Flexible Instruction Day program that could be implemented in the event of inclement winter weather or some other type of school closure.

The resolution was part of an application process to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education for up to five flexible days to count toward the mandatory 180 days of instruction.

The state agency could notify Carlisle by late October on whether the plan to implement the program is approved, Superintendent Christina Spielbauer said Wednesday. If the program is approved, district administrators will release further details to families on how the flexible day option would work.

In 2014-2015, Carlisle was one of 12 Pennsylvania school districts to receive approval from PDE to stage a flexible day instead of a snow makeup day. Carlisle held that day on April 6, 2015, the Monday after Easter.

Under that pilot program, Carlisle students were expected to follow their regular schedule by logging onto the websites of the teachers they would have and complete the assignments by April 10, 2015. The assignments included enrichment activities, extensions on current lessons or a preview of concepts or skills for an upcoming lesson.

State law

Gov. Tom Wolf on July 2 signed into law a three-year pilot program to let all school districts in Pennsylvania participate in a flexible instruction day program. Under the law, each district that wants to participate must show PDE how it plans to record attendance, institute the program and accommodate students who lack internet access at home.

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After its flexible day in 2015, Carlisle distributed survey forms to gauge how the day went. Seventy-six percent of the district’s 380 teachers responded to the survey reporting an 87 percent completion rate of assignments by students.

Thirty-four percent of the responding teachers shared positive experiences related to student accomplishments. Many of them were impressed by the ability of students to produce quality results while working independently outside the classroom.

In the intervening years, Carlisle never got rid of the option to call a flexible instruction day, said Stephanie Douglas, director of digital learning and technology. “We had it in our back pocket.” Milder winter weather in recent years did not make a flexible instruction day necessary.

Back in 2014-2015, holding a flexible instruction day on a snow makeup day made sense. Snow makeup days are programmed into the school year schedule giving administrators, teachers and staff ample notice to prepare for what was then a brand new concept in public education, Douglas said. “No one else in the area was doing it at the time.”

Pilot program

Carlisle was the only school district in Cumberland County involved in the initial pilot program. The list also included four York County districts, two Chester County districts and one district each from Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Crawford and Washington counties. There was also the Lancaster County Day School in Lancaster County and the Evergreen Community Charter School in Monroe County.

Though the initial pilot program has since expired, Carlisle can carryover the lessons learned into the new three-year program state lawmakers have opened up to all Pennsylvania school districts.

Should Carlisle be approved, the next step would be to provide information to parents and staff before the onset of winter. The resolution approved by the board gives the district the ability to call a flexible instruction day in the event of other conditions such as a disease epidemic, a law enforcement emergency, the inoperability of school buses or damage to a school building.

Since winter weather can be predicted days in advance, the plan is to give teachers and families as much notice as possible about the possibility of a flexible instruction day being declared by the district, Spielbauer said. She added the district program should provide a smooth flow for teachers who tend to prepare detailed lesson plans on a week-to-week basis.

Each year, Carlisle school district conducts a survey of parents to determine how many households have internet access, Douglas said. While that percentage has increased in the past four to five years, the district program includes a process teachers could use to reach out to families that lack access in order to provide off-line assignments to students ahead of flexible instruction days.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.