Local Editorials

Our View: Classroom time preferable, but eLearning worth exploring

Remy Parham scrapes snow from the front of his plow Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, while clearing snow from Joliet Streets.
Remy Parham scrapes snow from the front of his plow Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, while clearing snow from Joliet Streets.

THE ISSUE: Legislators consider reinstating classroom time mandate

OUR VIEW: Issue needs addressing, but eLearning should remain an option

"SNOW DAY!!!"

For many students, an unscheduled day off from school brings excitement. (Parents, not so much.)

But while they weren't in classrooms this week, Woodland students were partaking in lessons digitally from their homes. The school district had its first digital learning or e-learning day where students continued their courses by using phones, tablets and computers at home.

Superintendent Ryan McGuckin said the district swapped its teacher institute day from the end of May to last Friday so the district could spend six hours devising five days worth of work for students.

“It wasn’t my intent to do this now, I thought we would wait until next year, but this week scared me,” McGuckin said of the snow and low temperatures. “It didn’t look good for education.”

Students and their parents were able to access Google Drive accounts and read a lesson plan for the day to be completed from home. Subjects included English, math, social, science, music and physical education as would usually be completed at school.

McGuckin said some families have come forward noting they don’t have an internet connection at home, but McGuckin said those students can still do the assignments that require the internet upon their return to school.

Many readers also weighed in on The Times Facebook page, applauding Woodland's decision to go with an e-learning day when school was canceled. Here are a couple comments:

"I personally think it is awesome. It is pretty clearly explained and teachers are able to direct them via email all day. Most kids should be able to do their work independently. It's either do the work daily or have the kids responsible for a weeks' worth of work at a time. No making an unsafe call in dangerous conditions and no extra days tacked on at the end of the year! Big win for Woodland! I also like that the kids without the capabilities to access work at home are not penalized."

"As a bus driver and a parent of past and current Woodland students, I love this! With these temps it is hard to get those buses running and heated to safely transport students. And rather than have days added at the end of the school year, they now have e-learning days. I understand some people don't have internet and it's great that those students will still be able to make that work up upon returning to school. Works the same as if that student had been home sick. My daughter, a sophomore, loves it. She says it is quite easy to understand and do. I checked it out with her and I agree. And my kids who have already graduated say they wish this was possible when they attended school there. I applaud the admin and teachers for implementing this. Keeping our kids safe and warm at home while still being able to have them learn is a great thing."

While the local reviews have been mostly positive, it's unclear whether such an opportunity will continue to exist.

While there was general agreement at the Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday the definition of a “school day” is changing, the committee voted unanimously to reinstate an old definition of the term — at least temporarily.  

If the bill, which passed out of committee on a 16-0 bipartisan vote, becomes law this session, it would reinstate a requirement of five hours of direct supervision by a teacher in order for a day to be considered an instruction day. 

Opponents of the mandate said it would limit flexibility for digital snow day alternatives and other opportunities such as apprenticeships or programs for students who have trouble in a classroom environment.  

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, the bill’s lead sponsor and Education Committee chairwoman, said she understands more flexibility is needed for school districts and is committed to that goal. But she warned of the “wild, wild west” created by the repeal of the five-hour mandate.

“Right now a district could choose to have four days of school in a year,” she said.

There is no immediate clarity as to how long it will take for the bill reinstating the mandate to clear the legislative process, but both sides agreed to start negotiations on greater flexibility as soon as possible.

While the concept is still relatively new, e-learning appears to be a positive alternative to a district burning a snow day, and that flexibility should not come off the table. However, concerns over whether districts could overutilize the option should be addressed. Luckily, it appears even those in favor of the bill are open to discussing ways to keep digital snow days an option.

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