Goodbye, snow days: Students study from home

AP News
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Posted: Nov 11, 2014 5:34 PM
Goodbye, snow days: Students study from home

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — She's no Grinch about it, but Lynn Grewing is the principal who stole snow days.

The early arrival of wintry weather in the Midwest this week gave Grewing an opening to test out a virtual class day at St. Cloud Cathedral high school in central Minnesota, having students whip out laptops or iPads and work from home. After a successful test run, Grewing declared Tuesday that students' cherished snow days are a thing of the past — at least at Cathedral.

"This is what we will be doing every single snow day going forward," she said. "I'll be honest. There has been some grumbling."

Private schools like Cathedral — and, increasingly, some public school districts — across the nation are starting to use the flexibility technology provides to work around weather, meeting school mandates without make-up days.

Last winter's brutal cold and snow canceled five days of class at Grewing's school, leading to school days during Easter Break and pushing the year a few days into summer. The polar vortex got Grewing thinking about how to bring another Minnesota private school's successful virtual class setup to Cathedral.

A test run planned for later this month was pushed up to Monday morning, when the threat of record snows closed schools in the St. Cloud area, about 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Grewing ensured teachers had their assignments and lesson plans posted on the school's online portal by 10 a.m. for their seventh- through 12th-graders.

Cathedral senior Tommy Auger said doing classwork on his school MacBook Air from home didn't feel much different than a day in class. His math teacher even put up videos to walk students through solving problems.

Once they got over the initial disappointment of missing out on a free day, Auger said he and his classmates agreed — they'd prefer to skip out on a day of sledding rather than make-up days in the summer.

"It's hard to think ahead, but it's definitely better," he said.

It's an easier choice for smaller private schools like Cathedral, which has provided all its students with high-end laptops. But what about public school students who don't have that equipment, or don't have Internet access at home?

A panel of Minnesota's Department of Education has been wrestling with that question and with how to effectively bring virtual classes to public schools. Department spokesman Josh Collins said the state hasn't received much interest from school districts.

Iowa public schools found a work-around for Minnesota's concerns. Students without computer or Internet access get sent home with "blizzard bags" of homework. More than half of the state's 1,000 school districts have submitted plans to the state for hosting virtual makeup days, Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said.

More than 2,000 public high school students outside of New York City logged into their MacBook Airs from home as a storm bore down on the East Coast in February. Their superintendent, Erik Gundersen from Pascack Valley Regional High School District, is hoping lawmakers retool state law so those virtual class days count toward the state's 180-day mandate.

"It's not right for every day," Gundersen said. "From time to time, when school needs to be closed, it's a great way to continue the learning."