Although an Ohio law allows schools to hold classes online for up to three academic days out of each year, only a few school districts have so far submitted the necessary paperwork to take advantage of it. The law was designed to allow schools to keep up with their academic calendar in case of snow days, but for many students — who no doubt would hate to lose the hope that heavy snowfall comes with freedom from school — this will not be the case.
This inaction is surprising in light of the fact that the school districts pushed heavily for the law to avoid having to add additional days to the calendar once they’ve exhausted their five allowed “calamity” days. But so far only 120 of the state’s 614 districts have asked for permission to hold online classes, which is an increase of only 20 over last year.
Rural Ohio districts were more likely to take advantage of the online option, while only one of the bigger urban schools has asked for permission. Still, some district officials believe that the ability to keep kids to their schedule with only a few keystrokes is a huge positive.
“In case of a calamity day, it just takes one person to go in and turn the link on,” said Chris Deis, supervisor of instructional technology at the Olentangy district.
The toughest task was creating the system to store ready-made lessons crafted by teachers, Deis said. Once it’s in place, though, it’s easy for teachers to edit or swap out assignments, he said.
Deis said that their district designates one staff member to make sure that assignments are kept up to date, but other than that, keeping online lessons as a backup requires no additional effort. Many of the lessons are kept the same year-to-year, although some teachers requested updates this fall.
The law requires teachers to submit online lesson plans before school starts in the fall, and to add updates as often as possible. Although there are several subject-specific assignments, most just have students do past versions of state exams to keep up with their lessons.
Students are supposed to take a lesson for each class they would have attended at school. The point is to mimic a day at school, but students have two weeks to finish the tasks, in part to accommodate those without Internet access at home.
The law also lets schools distribute “blizzard bags” at the beginning of the year, with work students are to do in case class is called off. But officials in some districts say that option shouldn’t replace face-to-face teaching.
Considering the flexibility written into the law, the small number of districts taking advantage of it is surprising. Kimberly Miller-Smith, Superintendent of Canal Winchester school district, said that the online option allows her schools to make up the work in the event of a unexpectedly long bout of bad weather.
Last year, after an unusually mild winter, no district took advantage of the allotted calamity days, and therefore no online days were scheduled anywhere in the state. Several school districts did test out the facility, however.