A virtual learning plan approved by the state of Kentucky will allow snow days — a welcome refuge for school-weary students — to become learning days.
Waivers were granted to 13 school districts in the state allowing for online or another non-traditional method of education to be used when school is canceled due to weather or an emergency. Each waiver is good for 10 instructional days per year. The virtual days will be counted as regular school days, freeing the districts from needing to make up the days.
"Last winter's harsh weather created a significant hardship for both teachers and students alike. Many of our districts were forced to close for several days or weeks at a time, which not only disrupted instruction, but also extended the school year for many," said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. "While we hope that this winter will not bring the same challenges, now students in the approved districts will be able to carry on with learning — even when inclement weather keeps them out of the classroom."
In order to receive the waivers, districts were required to submit proposals stating how instruction would take place while school was out. The proposals were given scores based on teaching methods, student access, and assessment, among other factors.
Online learning systems such as Blackboard and Edmodo will be used for the virtual days. The systems allow teachers to post assignments and quizzes, as well as to conduct online discussions and even grade papers.
"Non-traditional instruction can be online classes," said Leslie County High School Principal Robert Roark. "We can email and text our kids if they've got questions, but we'll have those assignments already in place when they go home."
While the majority of students will choose to work from home, some districts such as Lawrence are debating asking some teachers to come into the elementary schools on these virtual days to help those students who want that face-to-face time.
Students who do not have adequate Internet access at home will receive hard copies of any assignments.
Program participation will be documented by each district and submitted to the state next spring. Districts are required to provide proof that teaching and learning were not negatively affected by the program.
A change in state law allowed all 173 school districts in the state to apply for the waiver this year. Previously, only districts that missed more than 20 school days were allowed to apply. House Bill 211 now allows the education commissioner to provide districts that supply a plan with up to 10 days of alternate instruction.
The system hopes to relieve some of the hardships faced by schools who were closed more than the allotted number of snow days last year. Lawrence was closed for 34 days in the 2013-2014 school year due to snow and other conditions.
Similar plans are in place in other parts of the country. According to Ann Flynn, the director of education technology at the National School Boards Association, about one-third of school districts across the nation have "significant one to one initiatives" allowing work to be assigned on snow days through school-assigned laptops.
Pennsylvania recently announced the Flexible Instruction Days Pilot Program, which allows schools to use non-traditional teaching methods during snow days.