Following Winter Storm, Wolf Administration Makes Emergency Declarations for Northeast PA Schools
March 22, 2017
Harrisburg, PA – In response to several Pennsylvania counties grappling with the effects of winter storm Stella, Governor Tom Wolf announced his administration will make emergency declarations to provide schools in Northeast Pennsylvania that were forced to close last week with options to otherwise satisfy the 180-day requirement.
“I understand the importance of keeping Pennsylvanians safe in times of emergency or in the case of a natural disaster, and this measure further extends those protections,” said Governor Wolf. “While recognizing the responsibility school administrators have to plan their calendars accordingly, this provides more flexibility in the face of unpredictable and unforeseen emergencies.”
Last week, schools in a number of counties, including Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming, expressed concerns they may not meet the number of required instructional days after being hit by winter storm Stella. Governor Wolf asked Secretary Rivera to make the emergency declarations for schools in those counties in accordance with Act 4 of 2016, which serves as a last resort for schools that are having difficulty meeting attendance requirements due to unpredictable emergencies. School administrators still must include a sufficient number of “make up” or “snow” days into their school calendars.
“School attendance impacts student achievement, and emergencies that require a school closing take away important instructional time,” said Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera. “While the top priority must be student safety, the Department’s goal is to ensure that schools are meeting the academic needs of students while also recognizing that extenuating circumstances do sometimes occur.”
Under Act 4, the Secretary of Education may issue a weather, safety, or health related emergency declaration at the request of a school or a charter school or on a county or statewide basis. The emergency declaration permits affected schools to institute options to otherwise satisfy the School Code’s 180 instructional day requirement.
When the Secretary of Education issues an emergency declaration following approval of a request, a school can satisfy the School Code’s instructional day requirement by:
1. Meeting a minimum of 900 hours of instruction at the elementary level and 990 hours of instruction at the secondary level in lieu of 180 days.
2. Scheduling of additional instructional days on one Saturday per month to complete 180 instructional days, or 900 hours at the elementary level and 990 hours at the secondary level. Student excusals for certain reasons are included in this option.
Both options must be approved by a majority vote of the school board or other governing body.
The Department of Education also reminds schools in counties outside those included in the emergency declaration, that they can still request an emergency declaration through PDE’s Office of School Services. PDE will then evaluate a school’s request on a series of factors.