As this year’s snow-filled winter continues in Connecticut, so too do school cancellations for districts across the state. While students may enjoy the instant gratification that a snow day brings, few are as excited in June when make-up days must be added to the school calendar. Disruptions in the class schedule also impact teachers and school leaders who must adjust lesson plans and decide how the district will meet the number of class days mandated by state law. Some states, districts, and individual schools have decided to use technology to make up these otherwise missed days, or at least minimize the impact on the school’s schedule.
In Connecticut, state law requires that districts maintain schools for at least 180 days of actual school sessions each year. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-15. Any days missed must be made up to meet the minimum requirement, and cannot be made up on Saturdays or Sundays. Id. While many school districts add contingency days for weather-related or other emergency school closures, a particularly stormy winter can render such planning moot. Traditionally, districts have added days to the school calendar at the end of the year, or have taken days away from spring vacation weeks. Such unpredictable changes to the school calendar can impact students and families negatively, and can frustrate teachers’ course and lesson planning.
However, some districts and schools have decided to take advantage of the digital age to lessen disruptions to the school schedule. Requiring students to complete assignments online during a snow day allows for continued learning, and in at least one state can count as a class day.
State law in Ohio allows for up to three online learning days to count as regular school days each year. Ohio Rev. Code §3313.88. Traditional public schools and chartered, nonpublic schools may use the online makeup option for days in excess of the number of “calamity days” permitted under the statutes, which is five days. Districts may also use “blizzard bags” for this purpose, which are paper copies of the lessons that have been posted online. Thus, in preparation of the sixth snow day of a given year, schools may equip their students with assignments to be completed at home, either in paper or electronic form.
Ohio districts wishing to participate must submit plans each year, though the program is not required. Students who fail to complete an online assignment are to be marked as absent for the day, unless the student later completes the assignment under locally adopted policy. Students are given two weeks to complete assignments, and students who do not have access to technology or internet resources at home are given two weeks from the date that schools reopen to complete online assignments.
In New Jersey, private schools have used distance learning during snow days to keep lessons on track. This year, some public schools are also using a virtual snow day as a pilot program, in the hopes that the state Education Department will approve the day as a substitute for one of the state’s mandated 180 school days.
Before mandating or even allowing districts to use online learning as a way to make up for snow days, several issues must be considered.
Equitable access to resources is a concern for students throughout the year, not just during snow days. Not all students may have access to the technology required to complete online assignments, nor may all students have access to the internet at home. While some schools use one-to-one programs in which every student is issued a laptop or tablet, many schools and districts have not chosen to go down this path. Furthermore, districts would need to consider what they would do in the event of power or internet outages that would prohibit students from completing required assignments on time.
Another challenge would be how a school would effectively implement an IEP or a 504 plan for a student participating in an online learning day. Though some students with such plans could fully participate and engage in an online learning day, others may require modifications to their online assignments, while still others may not be able to participate in a meaningful way. Districts would have to consider how to ensure that all students with special needs receive an appropriate educational program during any online learning days.
Some students and teachers may see online learning during snow days as a great option to stay on track in a given course. Students enrolled in AP classes may find online learning opportunities during snow days particularly helpful, as AP exam dates do not change, and students are expected to know all of the required material by that date, regardless of school days missed.
Online learning during snow days could become an excellent resource to supplement classroom education and ensure students continued learning even when school is cancelled. However, numerous issues must be taken into consideration before allowing such days to count towards the state’s mandated 180 school day minimum to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate.
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