E-learning now for snow days weeks ago? Some District 300 parents don't like it

Some schools are having students work online when weather keeps them out of school, but Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 is requiring students to do online makeup work now for snow days taken weeks ago.

The arrangement irks some parents and adds more voices to the growing chorus of parents, educators and legislators concerned about the increasing practice of online learning.

The district canceled classes five times this winter because of snow and extreme cold weather. But instead of making all those days up in the classroom, the school board voted this month to have the district's more than 21,000 students do the equivalent of three days of schoolwork online via district-issued laptop computers.

Students ­- and teachers - will have to make up only two of the days off in person at school.

District 300 will assign electronic coursework today, April 5 and April 8 for days missed weeks ago. Students will have several days to complete the work, district officials noted. But some of those days are over the district's spring break, which begins Monday.

Several parents questioned the district's plan to retroactively institute e-learning days at a recent school board meeting.

"This checks the box in regards to attendance days, but I feel the student is being missed in all of this," said Michele Clark, a mother of two students in the district. "They're not even being graded on these lessons. It lacks validity and value to the student."

Superintendent Fred Heid defended the plan, saying coursework scheduled for these days is in line with what the students are being taught. He acknowledged teachers have discretion about grading the work but said the teachers will review the work and are expected to provide feedback.

If students don't do the work, they will be given an unexcused absence for the day.

Parents complained the action was punitive, but Heid said students aren't disciplined for having unexcused absences.

Heid argued holding e-learning classes on days when the district experiences weather emergencies is problematic for several reasons.

Heid said preparing e-learning assignments ahead of time would amount to mere "busywork." Additionally, he said, the area was plagued by power outages during some of the weather emergencies this year, which would have prevented many students and some teachers from participating in e-learning.

Heid said the e-learning days do not increase or decrease the district's education costs, nor would adding the extra days back into the classroom schedule.

Some of the parents argued the plan puts the onus of monitoring the schoolwork on them and not on the teachers.

It also doubles up on schoolwork students already are assigned, they contended.

"It feels like it's being thrown at us to make up snow days," said Riley Lorenz of West Dundee, a mother of two students in the district.

Heid said none of the coursework assigned on e-learning days will be new to the students.

"Parents and guardians are not expected to teach new content," he said.

Parents also raised concerns that the district's use of e-learning days might make it easier for district officials to cancel classes more frequently because of weather emergencies in the future, something Heid said would not be the case.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Mathews said district officials can do whatever they want in regards to scheduling e-learning days, because mandates that required classes to be "directly supervised" by an educator were eliminated.

But that loophole might not last long.

After a pilot program for several years in West Chicago's Community High School District 94, Gurnee Elementary District 56 and Leyden High School District 212, e-learning was opened up to all districts in 2017. But legislation introduced this session in Springfield could kill e-learning, as a Senate bill making its way through the Education Committee would reinstate the "direct supervision" clause of the state's school code regarding what constitutes a legitimate school day.

The state's teachers unions have supported the bill, arguing teachers should be present for all instruction.

Heid said he received about 40 complaints about the plan from district parents. Ultimately, he said, this year's e-learning rollout is intended to test what works and what doesn't.

"The sole interest in this is seeing if it's an option for the future," he said.

As for the other two days lost to weather emergencies in District 300 this year, students will make them up on April 1 and May 24, dates that previously called for students to be out of the classroom, Heid said.

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