MINNETRISTA — Snow days may be a thing of the past for students in the Westonka Public School District.
The district will pilot eLearning Days for the 2019-2020 school year to help “counter the loss of curriculum momentum resulting from school cancellations due to Minnesota’s winter weather,” a district news release said. An eLearning Day will be implemented when school is canceled for the fourth time.
"We are excited to offer an eLearning Day program to continue the classroom learning at home on weather-related school closures. We hope we do not have to enact this plan as the most effective students learning happens at school in our classrooms but this will be a great option to utilize when school is closed," Mark Femrite, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Westonka Public Schools, told Lakeshore Weekly News. "Our eLearning Day plan will also address the needs of families without internet access and offer customized plans for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels."
Several school districts in the state have started utilizing eLearning Days thanks to Minnesota’s harsh winters, which have prompted schools to cancel classes more often in recent years.
Just think back to last winter, when in late January schools in the Lake Minnetonka area were closed for three consecutive days due to dangerously cold temperatures that dropped to around 30-below zero. At that point in the school year, with so many weeks of winter left, it can put districts at risk of not meeting the number of instructional hours required by state law.
Minnesota statutes say a school board’s annual calendar must include 425 hours of instruction for kindergarten students, 935 hours of instruction for students in first through sixth grade and 1,020 hours of instruction for students in seventh through 12th grade.
School boards can decide to have schools make up any or all snow days, which can result in staff days being turned into school days or the school year being extended into the summer.
“eLearning Days cannot replace the face-to-face time students have with their teachers, but they can provide better continuity when school is interrupted,” the news release says. “eLearning Days also negate the need for makeup school days in June, helping families more effectively plan summer activities.”
In total, Westonka Public Schools canceled five full days of classes in the 2018-2019 school year due to weather conditions, Westonka Public Schools Communications Coordinator Becca Neuger said. The district made up one of the days on May 10, 2019 — a previously scheduled staff development day.
eLearning Day protocol
Westonka Public Schools’ plan is to utilize eLearning Days on the fourth snow day, according to the news release. The eLearning Day protocol for this school year is:
- The first and second school closing days would occur without any changes to the school calendar.
- The third school closing would result in changing the May staff development day (scheduled for May 1, 2020) to a regular school day for students and staff.
- The fourth school closing would enact an eLearning Day.
On an eLearning Day, students will be given assignments to complete outside of school, with the release noting these assignments will often use their “district-provided mobile devices, with guidance provided by their teachers.” When the district reaches its third school closing of the school year, it will share more details and expectations about possible eLearning Days if school is canceled again.
This year is a “pilot” year to test eLearning Days and their effectiveness within the district, the release notes.