Editorial: Keeping the education in 'e-days'
Few occurrences have the potential to warm a schoolkid's heart in the middle of a harsh winter like those two little magic words, snow day. How they conjure an unequaled sensation of glee, a wonderful fluke of nature that means extra time to finish that homework assignment you just couldn't get around to last night, maybe a call to friends for an impromptu trip to the sledding hill or just a rare off-the-books holiday with no expectations and no way to pick up new responsibilities.
Ah, but alas, we have come to a generation whose snow days appear to be numbered. Last June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a measure that allows school districts to produce e-learning programs to put in place whenever weather conditions make it unsafe for teachers and students to attend classes or some other emergency forces the closing of a school building.
Now, as our Russell Lissau wrote last weekend, more and more school districts are devising plans to keep learning active even when classes are not. The Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 school board sent a three-year proposal to the Lake County regional school board for review. If approved, the plan will go into effect this winter, allowing teachers and students to use text messaging, online chat rooms and other electronic tools for instruction and interaction.
Describing a three-year pilot program completed in 2018 by Gurnee Elementary District 56, West Chicago Community High School District 94 and Leyden High School District 212, the Illinois State Board of Education said districts found that on emergency days, they could "meet the specific needs of all students, including those in special education and English Learner programs" with activities that provided at least five clock hours of instruction or school work, roughly equivalent to a full day at school.
The scheduling advantages of this innovation are readily apparent. Not only does it make it easier for school boards to build yearly instructional calendars, it also avoids the possibility of adding school days at the end of the year when, as Colleen Pacatte, superintendent of District 56, told our Madhu Krishnamurthy last June, "kids are checked out, families are checked out, and everybody knows that they're jumping through hoops."
But it is not without complications. Accommodations need to be considered for students who may not have access to the internet or who may experience power outages in the midst of a storm. Teachers need to prepare constructive lesson plans. Parents, especially those of young children, may find themselves with just as difficult a work conflict as they would have on any traditional emergency day and additionally could be burdened with a teacher's responsibility for monitoring their children's work.
Districts are finding that they can manage, if not always overcome, such challenges. Even before the new law, many suburban school systems implemented e-learning experiences that they considered successful enough to continue.
So, in future winter blizzards, children likely will be able only to imagine what it must have felt like to be blessed with a sudden, unscheduled day of guilt-free release. Maybe on an e-day, they can investigate snow days on the internet and write a report.