School district says “No” to virtual snow days

… for now


Ben Blackie

By Ben Blackie, Altoona Area High School

On July 2, Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill allowing all schools, public and private, to incorporate cyber snow days into their school year. Senate Bill 440 allows schools to have up to five cyber snow days. Although most schools in Central PA are taking part in this new opportunity, Altoona will be opting out.

“Altoona strongly considered applying for the ability to utilize flexible instructional days.  After weighing the challenges of being able to deliver on all of the requirements, we have decided not to apply this year and to take a “wait and see” this year,” Assistant Superintendent Brad Hatch said.

Many factors went into the decision making process.

“There were instructional, financial and contractual considerations that need to be factored in.  We talked to multiple districts that had piloted flexible instructional days and reviewed their plans for delivering home-based instruction on weather cancellations.  After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to monitor how other districts handle the situation this year, learn from them and make a more informed decision for next year,” Hatch said.

Although the school district won’t be partaking in cyber snow days this year, many teachers and students are for it.

We also plan on surveying other stakeholders such as parents and students to gather their opinion on the matter. ”

— Assistant Superintendent Brad Hatch

“I think virtual snow days would be a great idea given the new technology. It would let students enjoy themselves during summer vacation. And put a good use on the technology given to the students,” junior Gavin Schlecht said. 

“It would be really beneficial for us because we could get out early and not be behind,” sophomore Ashlee Moyer said.

Although this is the first year the state has offered cyber days to public schools, Bishop Guilfoyle has been using cyber days since 2014.

“Personally, I really like them because it lets us have a set day where we get out for summer. Although they can get kind of stressful because teachers might assign more work than what they normally would during a regular day,” Bishop Guilfoyle junior Aurielle Brunner said. 

Teachers and students are still concerned about some problems with cyber days.

“It would be great if we did because we would get out quicker. But a big disadvantage would definitely be that some students may not have reliable internet. I don’t think it would be possible for the entire school community,” English teacher Megan McElwee said.

The Altoona Area School District has a 19% special needs population in all of their schools.

“The biggest disadvantage would definitely be with the special needs students and how the school district would serve them. It’s a good idea in theory, especially for schools with small special education programs. But, I think it would be hard for Altoona because nearly 30% of the students have special needs in the high school,” special education teacher Travis Young said. 

Altoona plans to take this year to decide whether or not cyber days will be beneficial to the district.

“The size of our District is a consideration when planning on being able to deliver the diversity of services that we do on a daily basis and, quite simply, we do not want to short change our students and their education,” Hatch said.

This story was originally published on Mountain Echo on November 26, 2019.