Illinois is taking part in a trend that's sweeping school districts across the country: Turning snow days into online learning days.
When weather becomes treacherous, most districts choose to close schools for the duration. But in recent years, districts that have built up an online infrastructure are able to extend learning beyond the classroom. This means students spend more time learning and less time sledding.
Starting this school year, three school districts in Illinois — Leyden High School District 212, Community High School District 94 and Gurnee Elementary District 56 — have schools that are piloting a three-year E-Learning Day program. The program kicks into action when schools must be closed due to "an act or acts of God, or was occasioned by conditions beyond the control of the school district which posed a hazardous threat to the health and safety of pupils," according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Students attending schools closed during extreme weather would participate in online learning activities from the comfort of their homes. The schools involved must have a solid distance learning policy in place, along with the equipment that allows students to work just as well from home as in their classrooms.
Students at West Chicago Community High School were given Chromebooks at the start of the 2015–2016 school year, according to My Suburban Life, and they'll be putting those devices to use soon, as snowstorms hit. Online learning sessions will be conducted asynchronously, allowing students to complete their assignments on their own schedules, with teachers and staff accessible via email or Google Chat.
The online learning option has been popping up in other areas of the country as well, and each state tailors its policies to suit its needs:
- In St. Louis, Miss., school districts have been experimenting with a policy since 2013.
- In Logan County, Ohio, if more than five days at a participating school are missed due to weather events, e-learning days will be used.
- In Pennsylvania, participating schools can use up to five "flexible instructional days" each year, before requesting permission from the Department of Education to use additional days.
- In Bunker Hill, Ind., during the 2014 school year, four consecutive e-learning days were used in the Maconaquah School Corp., during which 75–80 percent of students completed their assignments online — a percentage equal to a regular school day.