State education officials are viewing a New Jersey school district's "virtual school day" as an innovative idea. However, the day will not count toward the official 180 days of school due to state laws requiring facilities be available during the school day.
A letter was sent out by the state explaining its position.
"Our conclusion is consistent with the position we have taken in recent years even in the face of extreme weather conditions, such as Superstorm Sandy," according to the letter.
Sandy required many districts to hold school on weekends and holidays to make up the missed days.
On February 13 when a major snowstorm hit the area, closing schools, more than 96% of Pascack Valley Regional High School District students and all of the staff logged onto their district-issued laptops for an online day of school. They worked on class assignments and talked with their teachers via forums, social media and email. While some thought the workload was more than normal, many enjoyed the opportunity to work at their own pace, according to the Associated Press.
Because it was unclear whether the day would count or not, the school asked students to come in for two days over Spring Break. About 70% of students attended this makeup day.
District superintendent Erik Gunderson noted that state education officials had urged the district to try the idea out when it was brought up in February. The district already has virtual classrooms for students with health issues, which are allowed because the school building is open at the same time. The school is hopeful to work with state officials in implementing a virtual school day in severe weather conditions.
"We're hopeful that we opened up an opportunity for the state legislature to redefine what constitutes a school day," Gundersen said. "I think there could be other aspects where we would experiment with this and I would love for the department of education to reconsider next year."
Gunderson is confident that area schools will one day be able to submit a plan for virtual school days to the state. This way if they are needed, the districts will be ready to use them. According to Mary Diduch writing for The Record, Gunderson also said the state may need to write its own guidelines for such an event.
"I know it's nice for me to be able to work in a district that embraces innovation and ingenuity," Gundersen said.
Despite growing interest in the idea of a virtual classroom, it is not expected to be a national undertaking. The New Jersey district is fortunate to be able to issue its students laptops, something most schools cannot afford to do.
On top of that, a recent survey found that only 18% of students have access to the Internet and other digital tools necessary to work from home, writes Colin Daileda for Mashable. Weather can also knock out the power, making a virtual class impossible.