School district makes decision to limit FID use

Flexible Instructional Days are a new approach that is being taken by the state of Pennsylvania towards school cancellation days. Flexible Instructional Days, also known as FID, have become popular throughout multiple school districts in western Pennsylvania.
FID have been introduced as an alternate way to instruct students when school is cancelled due to inclement weather, technical difficulties, or other unexpected circumstances. This idea is being implemented in order to prevent breaks from being shortened when there are multiple make-up days.
The FID program allows districts to assign lessons to students on days that in-class instruction is cancelled. Flexible Instructional Days involve teachers creating assignments that can either be sent home to students throughout the school year to be used for an emergency or posted on online sites, such as Google Classroom, on the day of the cancellation. The number of Flexible Instructional Days used may not exceed five days per school year.
Over the summer, Shaler Area School District received an email from the Pennsylvania Department of Education stating that a window was being opened to apply to use Flexible Instructional Days. However, the email was received at the beginning of August and the application was due at the beginning of September. In the application, it was necessary to include lesson plans and curriculum information in order to be approved.
The Shaler Area School District pursued the application in order to have the opportunity to use FID. The application was approved by both the school board and the state.
“We were one of the first school districts in Western Pennsylvania to actually get approved this year,” Superintendent Mr. Sean Aiken said.
Despite the fact that the district got approved for FID so quickly, they felt as though the application process was rushed and could have been done in a more orderly fashion.
After getting approved for the Flexible Instructional Days, the district then began to explore how they could be used in the 2019-2020 school year.
The district began to reach out to nearby schools to see how they might use the program, but because FID are new, it was difficult to get information on the success of the program. Additionally, other nearby districts build in make-up days for cancellations, so they did not see a need for FID.
Because the FID program is new, the district is not sure exactly how this plan will work. Shaler Area also values in-class instruction, and losing a chunk of days due to inclement weather is not something that the district sees as beneficial. Therefore, the district will not use flexible instructional days for weather and will use them for circumstances such as water main breaks or power outages for the 2019-2020 school year. There is still a possibility that FID will be used for snow cancellation days in future school years.
“The possible closure of a school due to an emergency is typically a decision that pertains solely to that school. For example, a water main break, power outage, etc. is usually contained to an area and would affect only schools in that area. A decision to cancel school for that school only affects that school and not the other six schools in the district. A closing due to inclement weather affects all 4200 students and over 400 staff members,” Aiken said.
Although Aiken knows portions of students would have no problem getting assigned work completed on time, it is a concern from the district that the loss of instructional time in class would not be beneficial to everyone.
“We’re a school district. We value time in seats and time in front of your teacher,” Aiken said.
Aiken is concerned that throughout the district that all students do not have the capability of getting their work done on their own outside of school. Another aspect of Flexible Instructional Days that worries the district is that not all students are able to access assignments online from their homes.
Although FID are one of the possible solutions to having to make up cancellations, the district may, in the future, consider ways to build more days into the schedule so that spring break is not shortened.
Aiken is aware that students dread having to make up snow days. Even though flexible instructional days are being put on hold for snow days, Aiken is not against the idea of implementing them in the future for all emergency circumstances. He thinks the program needs to be explored more before it is put in place across the district.
“I just don’t think that right now our plan for the flexible instructional days is a good plan for all 4,200 students in the district,” he said.