Three suburban Illinois districts plan to allow students to do school work at home on snow days or other emergency days, the Daily Herald reports.
A three-year pilot of the e-learning days will begin this school year, and participation in each year moving forward depends on the success of the program in the previous year, as determined by the Illinois State Board of Education. Pilots will begin January 4 in the following districts:
- Elementary District 56 in Gurnee
- Community High School District 94 in West Chicago
- Leyden High School District 212 in Franklin Park
“It’s really an extension of the regular learning that would be happening in class on those days,” the Daily Herald quoted District 94 Superintendent Douglas Domeracki as saying. “It’s about helping to define a new way that we can continue instruction outside of the school day.”
District 94, a one-high school district just west of Chicago, issued Chromebooks to all of its 2,055 student this school year and plans to use Google Classroom to deliver instruction to students, Mr Domeracki said. But, “at the end of the day, we know that technology is a moving target. Nobody really knows what’s going to be available three years from now.”
During “freak” snowstorms that come out of nowhere, he said, there won’t be an e-learning day, but if the schools know for a fact that a day will be a snow day because of advance weather forecasts, and teachers have time to prepare online-ready learning activities, the district will use the day as an e-learning day.
Nearby states use programs like this regularly, including Delphi Community High School in West Lafayette, Indiana. The e-learning initiative there gets mixed reviews from students.
Students are said to be “so plugged in outside of school that e-learning doesn’t feel that different,” NPR reports. But they say it doesn’t work for every class.
“It’s really tough in, like, a math class—for the high-level math classes, because some of that stuff you can’t just learn by yourself. You have to have the teacher there. You have to be in the classroom,” NPR quoted Isaac Miller, a student at Delphi, as saying back in February.
Required access to computers and Internet?
Some schools across the country—about two-thirds of the 14,000 or so school districts in the country offered a blended learning option in 2012—give students who don’t have access to computers or whose Internet connections may fail because of the snow additional time to make up any assignments given during the e-learning days, District Administration Magazine reports.
In Ohio, districts that exhaust their five annual “calamity” days can use up to three “e-learning days” during which students read through lessons and complete assignments at home. This way, districts can meet state class-time requirements without adding days to the end of the year or moving graduation dates, the magazine quoted John Charlton, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, as saying.
Ohio passed its e-learning law in 2011, but Illinois’s is just being piloted now. The law requires that five hours of instructional activity has to occur on any given day in order for it not to count against the school’s annual allotment of snow days.
The rapid growth of technology in schools has led to a fast increase in the number of schools that use e-learning days if they have them available. Perhaps during out-of-the-blue blizzards, where kids often sled down hills and build forts out of snow piles, e-learning isn’t so useful. But in Ohio, the number of districts, out of 614 eligible districts in the state, that submitted plans to use e-learning days jumped to 246 in 2014 from only 95 the previous year.
Ohio also allows a low-tech modification for using snow days without counting the days against the five allowed each year: blizzard bags.
These are printed copies of lessons or assignments that students who don’t have Internet access can take home. Teachers prepare these copies as they post the lessons online and hand the blizzard bags out on certain dates or just before anticipated school closings.