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Online learning softens impact of snow days

E-learning days can prevent lost class time when weather closes schools

Snow days are melting away as schools increasingly take advantage of online curriculum to keep students learning virtually during weather closures.

There are no statistics available on how many U.S. schools are turning snow days into online learning days. In Chicago Public Schools, it is a voluntary practice, with some teachers posting online coursework for students to complete on snow days. In some 1-to-1 Chicago schools, students downloaded lessons to their devices before leaving school in anticipation of snow storms in January and February, according to a district spokesperson.

In other districts, such as Hampstead Public Schools in New Hampshire, the superintendent can call an online learning day districtwide during bad weather. If 80 percent of students and staff participate online, the day will not have to be made up in June, according to the district’s website.

“It’s more than just putting lesson plans online—a lot of districts are restructuring and moving to blended learning so they can be prepared for bad weather,” says Allison Powell, vice president for state and district services at the International Association for K12 Online Learning (iNACOL). “The students might not get to spend as much one-on-one time with teachers during those days, but they can still communicate with them online and have access to content to work on at home.”

Two-thirds of the nation’s 14,000 districts offered some kind of blended learning option in 2012, according to the 2013 version of the Evergreen Education Group’s annual “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning” report. And that number is only expected to grow, giving more schools the option for online learning on snow days.

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, says John Charlton, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education. Anything after the three days must be added to the traditional school calendar.

The law allowing e-learning days passed in 2011. At the end of 2013, only 95 districts out of the 614 statewide had submitted plans to use e-learning days to the state Department of Education. That number jumped to 246 by the beginning of February, Charlton says. Schools that use up their calamity days but do not opt to use e-learning days must make them up at the end of the year.

The districts also can submit plans to use “blizzard bags,” which 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. The blizzard bags may be handed out on certain dates or just before anticipated school closings.

Students have two weeks after the e-learning day to complete any assignments, so those who don’t have internet access at home are not penalized.