Schools now allowed to use e-learning on emergency days
School districts statewide now can use snow days and other emergency days for e-learning, according to new legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday.
That means instead of spending time on snowball fights and tobogganing down sledding hills on snow days, students would use those hours more productively learning in an online classroom.
The new law expands e-learning flexibility and reinstates the minimum requirement of five hours of instructional time during a school day -- a provision that sunset in 2017.
Exceptions to the five-hour instructional day requirement are students enrolled in dual-credit courses or participating in supervised career development experiences, youth apprenticeships and in blended learning programs, such as what Huntley Community School District 158 offers at the high school level.
"Illinois students will continue to have access to important career-connected learning opportunities both in and outside of the classroom," State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said. "Thoughtful discussions among ISBE (Illinois School Board of Education), school administrators, lawmakers, educators, and other stakeholders resulted in a solution that meets our twin goals of flexibility and accountability."
The law also allows school districts to use two of the 176 instructional days for parent-teacher conferences.
Some suburban school districts have been using e-learning to move curriculum forward so students stay on track during inclement weather and other unexpected events.
"The academics and assignments focus on what students are working on at the time of the e-learning day," said Colleen Pacatte, superintendent of Gurnee District 56, which was among three suburban districts to participate in the state's e-learning pilot program. "By the time you start adding days to the end of the school year, kids are checked out, families are checked out, and everybody knows that they're jumping through hoops. An e-learning day is more meaningful than adding days at the end of the school year."
The state board of education established the e-learning pilot program in 2015. E-learning was to be used on no more than five school days per year and would count as attendance days without the need to add emergency days to the end of the school year, per state statute.
District 56, West Chicago Community High School District 94 and Leyden High School District 212 participated in the pilot program from 2015 to 2018. Each of the districts adopted programs that met needs of all students, including those in special education and English Learner programs. They used the internet, telephones, texts, chat rooms and other electronic communication methods for instruction and interaction among teachers and students, according to the state board's case study.