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Instructional Days/Hours During the 2020-2021 School Year

Implications Related to COVID-19

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) recognizes that school leaders face many difficult decisions and challenges in planning for the start of the 2020-2021 school year and determining how to provide students with a minimum of 180 days of instruction and 900 hours of instruction at the elementary level and 990 hours of instruction at the secondary level. See 24 P.S. §§ 13-1327, 15-1501; see also, 22 Pa. Code § 11.3. This correspondence addresses the minimum instructional time requirements and other issues that must be considered when making decisions related to the provision of instruction during a global pandemic.  

Section 520.1 of the Pennsylvania Public School Code (School Code) provides the following:

(a) Whenever an emergency shall arise which the board of school directors of any school district in the performance of its duties could not during the prescribed length of school days, number of days per week, anticipate or foresee, and which emergency shall result in any such school district being unable to provide for the attendance of all pupils or usual hours of classes, it shall be found as a fact by the school directors of any school district and so recorded on the minutes of a regular or special meeting of such board and certified to the Superintendent of Public Instruction1, and such board of school directors, subject to the approval of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, shall have power to put into operation in such school district any one or more of the temporary provisions hereinafter provided for, but in no event shall such temporary provisions remain in effect for a period of more than four years after they are first put into effect.

(b) Subject to the foregoing provisions, any board of school directors may:

(1) Keep the schools of the district in session such days and number of days per week as they shall deem necessary or desirable, but the provisions of this act requiring a minimum of one hundred eighty (180) session days as a school year shall not be affected thereby.

(2) Reduce the length of time of daily instruction for various courses and classes.

(c) Any school district, by invoking the powers herein granted, shall not thereby forfeit its right to reimbursement by the Commonwealth or other State-aid as otherwise provided for by this act.

24 P.S. § 5-520.1

Section 520.1 of the School Code provides flexibility in the event of an emergency that prevents a school entity from being able to provide for the attendance of all pupils or usual hours of classes. PDE considers the World Health Organization-declared Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic an emergency as contemplated by section 520.1. Accordingly, local governing boards have the authority to enact temporary provisions as set forth in section 520.1 during the period of the pandemic response and should consult their solicitor in this regard. Any school entity  that enacts such temporary provisions must submit the following to the Secretary of Education (Secretary) for approval: (1) board meeting minutes demonstrating approval of the temporary provisions, and (2) the temporary provisions adopted, including the school entity's proposed calendar and academic schedule. Such information shall be submitted with or as an amended component of the school entity's Health and Safety Plan at RA-EDContinuityofED@pa.gov. Upon receipt, the Secretary will review to ensure board approval and that the school entity's plan accounts for at least 180 days and 990/900 hours of instruction. Charter schools, cyber charter schools, and regional charter schools are strongly encouraged to coordinate with their authorizer(s) in implementing pandemic-related temporary provisions and must file any amended component of the school entity's Health and Safety Plan with their authorizer(s).

The recognition of instructional programs that may count towards instructional time requirements is a local decision to be made by each school entity. When making decisions related to the provision of instructional time, all school entities must be cognizant of issues such as: the provision of planned instruction needed to attain the relevant academic standards set forth in Chapter 4; implementing systems of tracking attendance and instructional time, especially related to students engaging in remote instruction; the provision of FAPE; and equity in access to instruction for all students.

Additionally, Chapter 11 requires that "instruction time for students shall be time in the school day devoted to instruction and instructional activities provided as an integral part of the school program under the direction of certified school employees." 22 Pa. Code § 11.2 (emphasis added).  Although instruction may be provided in synchronous or asynchronous formats, to count as instruction­—whether in the classroom or remotely—students' instructional activities must be under the direction of a certified school employee, unless otherwise permitted (e.g., 24 P.S. § 17-1724-A).

Any school entity that includes time spent in a remote learning environment toward instructional time requirements must implement a system that accurately tracks out of school instructional time similar to attendance in the school building.

A charter school must work with its authorizer if it is planning to implement some type of alternative schedule or type of instruction.


1The Superintendent of Public Instruction is the Secretary of Education.