Technology's great, but it could eliminate snow days A boy slides down a hill after a storm brought snow to many southern California locales, near Yucaipa, California (Reuters / AP photo)
Technology's great, but it could eliminate snow days

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One of the best parts of winter could be melting away for many Indiana students as advances in technology make snow days rarer than an igloo in July.

The state's Department of Education has granted 37 public school districts and 13 private schools permission to hold online learning days in cases of inclement weather this school year. Supporters say the practice will ensure students don't miss critical instructional time and will help districts avoid extending the school year to make up missed days.

"When we add days at the end of the year, that's past the time our students have taken the assessments by which we're measured," said East Allen Community Schools Superintendent Ken Folks, whose district of about 9,100 students missed 14 days due to weather last year. "To be able to capture instructional time prior to those assessments is key to us."

But the move to replace face-to-face lessons with virtual instruction has sparked concern from members of the State Board of Education.

Board member Brad Oliver said he thinks the virtual option is worth exploring but wants assurances from the Department of Education about how attendance and instruction will be monitored. He also thinks lawmakers should define what constitutes an instructional day in a virtual learning environment to ensure students still receive the 180 days of instruction required by state law.

"I'm concerned about students getting lost in the cracks," Oliver said. "I just don't see a 7-year-old who's an average student because they're living in poverty and for whatever reason they don't have the resources at home. ... I just find it hard to believe they're going to call up the hotline to ask a teacher for help with their phonics homework."

Schools across the country have been increasingly moving toward virtual instruction in place of snow days as more districts put technology in students' hands. Last winter's polar vortex caused some Indiana districts to miss up to 15 days, forcing them to shorten spring breaks, extend school days and tack on extra days at the end of the year.

As some districts faced the prospect of moving graduation to July, the Department of Education granted waivers allowing eligible districts to use the virtual option to make up some of the time. This year, the department is allowing schools to apply for virtual instruction days in advance.

Schools that want to use the virtual option must ensure that teachers are available to answer questions. Districts also must provide accommodations for students who would normally have assistance in the classroom and provide appropriate learning activities for those with disabilities who don't use online learning platforms.

That can include adding extra time to complete the work or apps that read content aloud, said Connie Brown, director of special services for East Allen schools.

Schools also need to ensure that even students without home Internet service can access online learning platforms. Many districts are opening computer labs or providing lists of businesses and libraries with free Internet access to ensure students can complete their lessons. Other, more rural districts, where Internet access can be a challenge have opted to stick with traditional makeup days.

Many school districts will continue to have traditional snow days built into their calendars. And schools say students who can't complete their work online won't be penalized if they cannot access the Internet.

Critical thinking challenge: What things are essential to make online learning work?

Assigned 55 times

  • NW2000Basketball
    1/05/2015 - 08:41 a.m.

    Some things that are essential are being respectful so the online learning would work. Another is actually learning what is being taught online. Also people paying attention and not messing around so you understand the information.

  • TreyvaunT
    1/05/2015 - 09:03 a.m.

    You can't get rid of snow days! They are what makes the world go round. It keeps everyone sane. Getting rid of snow days is like getting rid of Christmas.

  • 5JacobM
    1/05/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    The pros of this story are that you wouldn't have to make up school at the end of the year, and the schedule wouldn't change. The cons would be what if someone doesn't have wireless and home to complete the assignment they would be behind.

  • MikaylaStazewski-Ste
    1/05/2015 - 01:02 p.m.

    If our school decided to have online classes on snow days I would literally die. In some way though, I do not really feel that is fair because I don't agree that students should do something they didn't sign up for. However, if there was a paper sent home earlier in the year, it would be a different story.

  • OBrayan-Cas
    1/05/2015 - 03:49 p.m.

    I think that Indiana's department of Education is not taking the time to consider the students and their wish for snow days. What the States Department of Educations needs to do is to assign a certain number of days the schools can have snow days and not hold up classes online. This would please both the students and the States Department of Education because it allows students to enjoy snow days but still have them knowing that after a certain number of days they would eventually have to log on the computer and attend the online classes the States Department of educations wants for the students.

  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    1/06/2015 - 09:37 a.m.

    I greatly appreciate all of the enhanced technology that is available nowadays, but I truly believe that it is making us lose focus on what real life is. I think that it is crazy that schools want their students to participate in class assignments, even on a school day. Technology is seeming to just make things a little more frustrating.

  • BAlyssa-Sti
    1/06/2015 - 09:57 a.m.

    It is so interest on snow days they want us to use our social media to still learn. We aren't really on our phone when there are snow days. A snow is to have fun, not sit in the house and learn. They are trying to make sure students without home internet service can access online learning platforms.

  • MFrancisco-Sti
    1/06/2015 - 10:04 a.m.

    M - Students are taking classes online now.
    E - They are taking them because of the weather.
    A - I don't think that it is a good idea because people need to interact with other students.
    L - Technology is taking over.

  • LAvery-Sti
    1/06/2015 - 10:08 a.m.

    I think that having technology for snow days could be bad and good. For one thing it would be bad because kids would never ever get a break. It could be good because then the time will not go into summer vacation. For one thing we would never get a break from it at all. Sometimes kids need snow days.

  • AdenCPink
    1/06/2015 - 11:59 a.m.

    Wouldn't it be easier to move assessments to a later date instead of having the students take online classes? They say "If students don't have access to the internet at home, they could go to a library or somewhere else with free internet access," but what if the weather was so terrible that people couldn't leave their homes? THEN what are they going to do? Hm?

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