By Bob Skolnik
If school is cancelled more than once this year because of bad weather, students in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will attend classes electronically for up to two days.
Taking advantage of a new state law, the District 96 Board of Education unanimously voted at its Dec. 18 meeting to approve a plan to have two eLearning days if school has to be cancelled for any reason.
Last summer, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a new law allowing school districts to have up to five eLearning days in an academic year. District 96 has decided that the first day of school cancelled this year would be made up on President's Day, Feb. 17. But, up to two additional cancelations would trigger eLearning days, where students would be expected to do school work at home.
Fifth- through eighth-graders in District 96 have school-supplied Chromebooks and L.J. Hauser Junior High School students usually take their Chromebooks home.
Families would be notified of an eLearning day by telephone or email just as with any school closing. On the eLearning day, students would be expected to access assignments online with school supplied devices or devices at home, although assignments for elementary school students would be sent home on paper.
Students would be expected to spend at least five hours, the state's minimum requirement for an official school day, on their assignments, although the time it would take for any individual student to complete their assignments would vary.
Teachers would be expected to be available electronically from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the eLearning days. Students would turn in their assignments online or on the first day back at school.
Students who don't have internet access at home would not be penalized for not completing eLearning assignments. Some elementary school assignments would require internet access, but others would not.
"All the grade levels have options that are not technology-based," said Angela Dolezal, the director of teaching and learning in District 96.
Hauser students would have lessons for each of the classes on their schedule. Elementary school students would be expected to complete assignments for English language arts, math, science, social studies and the special area class that they have in school that day.
One reason District 96 is embracing eLearning this year is because, with an ambitious construction schedule this summer, district officials do not want to extend the school year further into June if they can possibly avoid it.
There also are educational benefits, Dolezal told the school board. When make-up days are held in June, many students have zoned out and eighth-graders have already graduated.
"When we have to make up those days, a lot of the curriculum has stopped, we've turned in technology [and] some families have scheduled vacations so they're not attending school at that time," Dolezal said. "This helps learning stay continuous."
The eLearning days would be considered a success if attendance, and completed assignments come to 95 percent of students, which was the average attendance during the district's two make-up days last June.
Although the board voted unanimously to adopt the eLearning days, school board member Jeff Miller, who grew up in a small town in snowy upstate New York southeast of Buffalo, said that there would be a loss for kids missing out on the spontaneous fun of an unexpected snow day off of school.
"I remember when I was a kid, a snow day was sort of a wonderful event," Miller said. "You had the day off, you were outside; in a way I feel bad for the kids."
District 96 is the only local elementary school district in the Landmark's coverage area to adopt eLearning days. Riverside-Brookfield High School has approved the use of up to five eLearning days this year, if necessary.
Last year RBHS used two eLearning days during last winter's polar vortex to mixed reviews from students and parents.
This year Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary District 95 will not have eLearning days, but will have the option of a one-hour late start on certain bad-weather days due to an arrangement it has worked out with its school bus company.
On those days, school will start at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. and bus service will still be provided. Having a late start provides the district the option to still have a school day on days when there might have been heavy snow overnight.
"Every once in while those days come up that, if we could have started later, we could have been in school as opposed to canceling," said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.