School districts across the state, including Springfield District 186, will have the chance to adopt e-learning for students in cases of inclement weather.
All school districts in the state who want to go that route are required to submit a plan approved by their school board to their Regional Office of Education (ROE) by Wednesday.
Plans could cut down on how many “emergency days” are used, though it would not necessarily make snow days obsolete.
The District 186 board of education was taking a proposal at a special meeting Monday.
All 13,300 students in District 186 are equipped with portable laptops or tablets. Ball-Chatham’s 6,000 or so students also have one-to-one technology.
Ball-Chatham school district approved an e-learning plan in a 6-1 vote at its regular meeting Wednesday.
District 186 officials hinted there could be situations where an “emergency day” is enacted with no e-learning implemented. The e-learning plan would give the district a fallback, though.
“There may be a day or two where we say we’re not going to do anything, we’re all going to stay at home,” said Superintendent Jennifer Gill. “However, most of those (emergency) days are pretty nice by noon and we could have been in school learning and the kids are home bored.
“Being able for them to log-on, to go on to their home page for their class and being able to grab their activities and assignments and do those and have teachers available for check-in and learning opportunities, those are things we’re looking forward to with this plan.”
A state statute passed in 2019 gave school districts the choice to go to e-learning in those situations.
School districts must build in five “emergency days” into their calendar, said Shannon Fehrholz, assistant superintendent for ROE #51, which includes District 186 and Ball-Chatham. If used without e-learning, those days have to be made up some time during the school calendar. Anything over five days, Fehrholz said, is considered “an act of God” day and does not have to be made up by the district.
Adopting an e-learning plan would cut down on having to make those days up, Gill said. Typically, districts tack on days at the end of the school calendar.
“One thing we learned about remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is that we can do (it). It does work for some students,” Gill said. “It’s not as easy as in-person learning. It’s not as effective as having a teacher for direct instruction, but students are used to it and we have moved to a one-to-one classroom environment where all students have a device they can take home with them, which will make this e-learning opportunity a lot easier.”
Fehrholz said if the district chooses to engage in an e-learning day, it has to ensure there are five clock hours of instruction or school work for each student. That doesn’t mean that students, she said, would necessarily be face-to-face with a teacher.
Districts also have to ensure, Fehrholz added, “appropriate learning opportunities for students who don’t the internet or (devices) and learning opportunities for students with special needs.”
If an “emergency day” is declared and e-learning is implemented, notice has to be provided to students and parents or guardians, Fehrholz said.
“Having the plan in place provides them the option to utilize the e-learning day in place of the ’emergency day,'” Fehrholz added. “It doesn’t mandate that they have to use it.”
Buffy Lael-Wolf, who represents Subdistrict 5, said she had a number of questions and concerns related to the logistics of the plan heading into Monday’s meeting.
“Families with multiple kids across multiple schools across the district. Equity can come into play and I think we have to address that (beforehand) rather than at the moment (of emergency),” Lael-Wolf said. “How does Zoom work for multiple kids with technical issues? What happens when half the city has power and half the city doesn’t?
“I have the responsibility to ask some of these questions and there are things I want to understand deeply before I cast a vote.”
Lael-Wolf has been one of the school members who has endorsed remote learning and favors a “remote learning academy” being set up in the district. The Illinois State Board of Education doesn’t currently allow for it unless a student is quarantined or for other medical conditions.
Lael-Wolf said that remote learning and “emergency learning” aren’t the same.
“We’re not experts at the remote learning ballgame, so my vision of remote learning really has to do with a better infrastructure than what we had (last year), with remote learning-trained teachers and a remote learning principal,” Lael-Wolf said. “In an emergency learning situation what we’re talking about is casting everybody in the deep end of the pool, without the infrastructure present.”
Subdistrict 2 board member Micah Miller said he wasn’t tipping his hand about the vote, only that the district’s goal “is to keep kids in school in-person five days a week all year long.”
Teacher unions and bargaining units representing paraprofessionals and other workers in Springfield and Ball-Chatham districts approved e-learning plans.
The Ball-Chatham plan, pending approval by ROE #51, would be for three years, when it would have to be taken up again by the school board.
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected], twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.