School districts considering longer days to avoid extending school year

Districts have canceled a week’s worth of instruction time because of winter weather. To avoid making up that time in June, area school district administrators might seek approval from the state and their communities to extend school-day hours, allowing them to finish the year under the minimum 180-day requirement.

Although school entities are normally penalized by the state Department of Education for not fulfilling a 180-day calendar, Pennsylvania school code allows districts to propose an exception to the requirement.

Schools are considering proposals to fulfill the required number of instructional hours – 990 for secondary and 900 for elementary – in less than 180 days.

“It is certainly something districts would consider along with other options,” Penn Cambria Superintendent Mary Beth Whited said.

“We would have to have feedback from the community on how it affects families. At Penn Cambria, we are looking at how long we would have to extend the day.”

Whited said districts in the western part of the state that are accustomed to snowy weather do not usually receive special treatment from the state Department of Education. But it seemed to her that after harsh winter weather had impacted the eastern part of the state, the department sought to clarify schools statewide of their options.

“Districts have called to see what options are available but no requests have been submitted,” Pennsylvania Department of Education Spokesman Tim Eller stated in an email.

Spring Cove Superintendent Robert Vadella is mulling over the option to extend school days by 20 minutes to make up for lost time.

“Our board is looking at this option,” Vadella stated in an email. “My thoughts are mixed. Some of the obstacles are the issues of child care arrangements, parent work schedules, after-school activities and how schools would count such things as student absences or employee absences on extended days.”

Alternatives to extending school days are to cancel holidays, tack on makeup days at the end of the school calendar or rearrange teacher inservice days to take place of student makeup days at the end of the school calendar.

Each option carries challenges for family vacations and child care, school officials said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.