No More Snow Days?! Part 1
A friend of mine suffering through the polar vortex on the East coast posted this on Facebook recently (before this latest storm!): So there was no school yesterday and there is a two-hour delay today with likely another snow day tomorrow. Frank said to the kids, "This is the best winter ever for kids! But of course you will be in school until July at this point." Dermot looked confused and I said, "What do you think they do when they can't send you to school during the winter? They tack the days on to the end of the year." Dermot's response was a horrified, "Wait, WHAT!"
Snow days were always a highlight of the school year when we were young, but in this harsh winter in the East and Midwest, that occasional gift to students is turning into a regular occurrence, and making things challenging for school districts all across the country who are faced with significantly reduced instructional hours. While most districts build a cushion of a couple of days into their calendars for unexpected closings, no one has been prepared for the number of closings that have happened this year. Districts are getting creative – adding 5 minutes to each school day, shortening spring breaks, cancelling holidays, or – much to my friend Dermot’s chagrin – extending the school year into summer vacation.
A growing number of states, districts, and schools are also being creative by developing policies to shift instruction online—and calculate attendance—when snow days, disaster days, or other unexpected school closings keep students away from schools. We believe Ohio was the first state to pass legislation allowing lessons to be posted online in case of unexpected school closings and count these days as school hours. HB153 (2011) allowed schools to make up a maximum of three calamity days either via lessons posted online or “blizzard bags” (paper lesson plans distributed to students that correspond to online lessons). A district’s plan must be approved in writing by the teacher’s union and submitted to the state in order to be implemented. In this exceptional weather year, Ohio is considering extending the number of calamity days because most districts in the state have already used the five allowed in legislation. As of last week, 155 school districts had submitted blizzard bag plans to the state.
As of Friday, February 7, 2014, schools in Indiana can apply to the Indiana Department of Education for approval to use elearning and be able to calculate attendance on snow days. The online application process that districts must complete ensures they are confident that learning can occur for all students, and with support and facilitation of their teachers. Maconaquah School Corporation and Metropolitan School District of Wabash were approved to use virtual learning for snow days as a pilot program because both districts have been a part of a two-year pilot that is unrelated to weather, but that provides flexibility to imagine learning outside of a traditional brick-and-mortar environment.
In addition, a number of private schools are also testing elearning policies on snow days including Gibault High School (IL); Mount Saint Mary Academy (NJ), Quigley Catholic High School (PA), and Seton-LaSalle Catholic High School (PA).
To read more about what an elearning snow day looks like, check back tomorrow.