As the nation braces for colder weather, the thoughts of students and educators are turning to snow days. For states in the Midwest and on the East Coast, snow delays and cancelations are a reality districts must contend with during the school year. But with the spread of online learning, are they still necessary?
Indiana doesn't think so. In the 2013-14 school year, the state implemented a "virtual option" for inclement weather, allowing 40 schools to continue learning as the polar vortex bore down upon the heartland. The plan worked so well that Indiana is going to try it out again.
Of course, not every school can implement a virtual alternative. Indiana's Department of Education ultimately required districts providing the option to meet the following criteria:
- The district can prove all students and teachers have the ability to access the internet when they are away from the school building.
- All students and teachers have experience using digital learning platforms.
- The district can let students know about their learning targets by 9 a.m.
- Parents and students will have the ability to reach teachers for help and questions throughout the "virtual" learning day.
- All content given to students during "virtual classes" is content that would have been presented had a normal day been in session.
- Appropriate accommodations will be given or provided to students with Individualized Education Plans.
- Students who have disabilities hindering their use of digital learning will receive appropriate supplemental material.
- Students who are English language learners and have Individualized Learning Plans will receive appropriate supplemental materials.
- The school can prove students are showing appropriate growth even when using the virtual learning program.
Even an Indiana district feeling confident that it can meet the above nine requisites must still apply for the option. And Indiana is not alone: Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia all have e-learning options for snowy days.
In Ohio, schools can take up to three e-learning days. In order to do this, a district must submit a digital lesson plan to the Ohio Department of Education that explains what they plan to do during those days. Last year, 156 of the state's 614 traditional public schools submitted plans for e-learning days. Students had two weeks to complete assignments and worksheets uploaded by their teachers.
So what does this e-learning option mean for those snow-heavy states? Most obviously, schools will no longer have to scramble to figure out how to make up required school days.
Last spring, for example, Arkansas schools did meet the state’s mandate of 178 school days after an intense winter led to over 20 being taken. While the Arkansas Department of Education ultimately decided schools only needed to make up 10 days, it still left districts in a tough position. Teachers were asked to come in and teach over spring break, and Saturday classes were implemented.
Needless to say, this wasn't popular with teachers, students, or parents, who may have already planned vacations and family time. Utilizing an e-learning option eliminates this issue.
The down side? In keeping in line with criticism of online learning in general, critics contended that nothing will ever be able to fully replicate the help and guidance of a real teacher. There is also the issue of ensuring that all students have Internet and computer access. While this is increasingly becoming the norm, there is definitely a socioeconomic gap between districts that can participate in e-learning initiatives and those that cannot.
Regardless, while we hope this winter is not another brutal one, it's nice to know there are some budding options that can keep students learning and engaged even when physically getting to school is near impossible.
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