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Snow day relief Our view – State should consider expanding E-learning days

No doubt Minnesota has endured its share of inclement weather this winter. School districts have rightfully closed their doors for a day rather than risk putting students and staff in harms way to meet the state’s required number of school days.
That is especially true in school districts like Glencoe-Silver Lake where many of the busses carrying students travel on rural roadways suspectable to inclement weather. The district has used a handful of snow days and two of the five E-learning days the state allows.
Last Wednesday, Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, offered her “Snow Day Relief Act,” a bill proposing to help school districts avoid funding shortfalls and penalties for districts failing to meet state minimums for hours of instruction because of inclement weather. A similar bill offered in the Minnesota House of Representatives would credit districts for classroom days lost to the polar vortex Jan. 29-31.
The state currently allows five days for E-learning, days when teachers make use of the investment in technology – e.g.: Internet access in schools, software and hardware – so students can have lessons and assignments available to them when weather dictates students and staff would be safer off at home.
We support expanding the number of E-learning days when an unusual weather scenario presents itself. Our winter to date certainly qualifies as unusual. As long as the missed days are dedicated to E-learning, we also support districts not being financially penalized for the lost time. After all, many school districts and their taxpayers have made significant investments in technology. Why not make good use of the investment when the weather threatens the safety of children and staff.
While we are not suggesting E-learning should replace classroom learning for most students, the proposal to make expanded use of E-learning in an untenable situation just makes sense.
In its first uses of E-learning earlier this winter, GSL school principals Bill Butler and Matt Foss said the days went well. They conceded the interactions, lessons and assistance available were good though not perfect. If only to maintain the credibility of E-learning, we expect and are confident there will be improvement in the use of E-learning days from staff and students alike.
We also commend the GSL School District for making accommodations for families who don’t enjoy access to the Internet and areas underserved by access to it. We anticipate additional efforts have been implemented to help these students remain on pace with their classmates on E-learning days.
School districts that make efforts to make the best of a bad weather situation should not be penalized. However, districts with the capability and access to technology that make little or no efforts to make due for lost days should not be protected from well-meaning proposed legislation.
It is a shame GSL’s school board directors felt they had little choice but to eliminate spring break days. The alternative was to extend the school year into June. Board members are aware snow days are unpopular with working families.
It is concerning when adults take to social media and kvetch about schools closing or beginning late because of bad weather. The decision to call a weather day or start two-hours late is not made lightly. There are many players involved, not just the superintendent. Any school leader worth his, or her, salt will always err on the side of caution and student safety. Would you have it any other way?
-jm