A day of nothing but sledding when schools declare "snow days" might not be an option this winter for students at three suburban school districts.
But there still might be time to build a snow fort.
Gurnee Elementary District 56, West Chicago-based Community High School District 94 and Leyden High School District 212 will test a new program allowing them to provide electronic instruction in lieu of snow days or other emergency days.
After changes to state law, the Illinois State Board of Education selected the districts for the three-year pilot, which begins Jan. 4.
Approval to continue the program in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years is contingent upon satisfactory implementation in the previous school year, per the state education board.
E-learning days are a growing national trend, District 56 Superintendent John Hutton said.
"Most of the surrounding states to Illinois -- Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio -- they are all using e-learning days," he said.
The Gurnee district's 2,300 students have been using one-to-one iPad devices for four years now. The district has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School and is part of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.
"We are eminently qualified to take on a task of this level," Hutton said. "The pencil and paper in our school district is now the iPad. There is not a classroom in our district (where) the iPad is not the integral part of instruction."
Teachers' lessons are stored online, while students have full access to information and resources and submit their work electronically.
Hutton stressed schools are not trying to take the fun out of snow days.
The law, he said, requires "a five-hour learning experience on that day. We're going to be flexible enough that if the kids want to go out and build a fort or snowman, it won't preclude them from doing that."
Many suburban school districts already are moving toward a one-to-one learning environment.
This is the first year District 94's roughly 2,100 students have been issued Chromebooks. District leaders helped write the legislation that now allows for substituting emergency days with e-learning days.
"It's really an extension of the regular learning that would be happening in class on those days," West Chicago Superintendent Douglas Domeracki said. "This is not about disadvantaging kids. It's about helping to define a new way that we can continue instruction outside of the school day."
District 94 officials say they will call for an e-learning day only if there is early warning of impending bad weather.
"If it's a freak snowstorm and it comes out of nowhere, it would be a regular snow day," Domeracki said.
Schools may use Internet, telephones, texts, chat rooms, or other means of electronic communication for instruction and interaction between teachers and students as part of e-learning.
"We are utilizing Google Classroom as a mechanism to deliver our education," Domeracki said. "At the end of the day, we know that technology is a moving target. Nobody really knows what's going to be available three years from now."