New state law allows e-learning days in lieu of emergency days

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 14, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Jun. 14, 2019 2:13 pm
Roy Webb

QUINCY -- A new Illinois law allows school districts statewide to use e-learning days in lieu of emergency days, but don't look for that to happen any time soon in Quincy Public Schools.

"I don't see us doing it next year. We're not a 1:1 school district. We can't ensure all kids have a device at home or ensure connectivity with internet," Superintendent Roy Webb said. "Some school districts will start to do it next year. We'll watch, see what success they have and learn from their lessons."

Among the districts to watch will be Mendon, where Superintendent Scott Riddle said a formal plan for e-learning days will be in place prior to the start of the 2019-20 school year.

"We want to share this with our parents during registration and open house so they're well aware ahead of time and probably do a practice run before we have to do it – set up an e-learning day even if we're in attendance, practice it and see if we need to adjust so we have a smooth transition when we have to use it," Riddle said.

The district is 1:1, with students in grades 4 through 12 taking home their devices, but in some trial runs last year "even at the younger ages it was very nice to see that our kids could go onto Class Dojo, still access their work and continue their education even if they were at home due to snow or ice," Riddle said.

Utilizing e-learning days is especially exciting after having 11 snow days in the school year that just finished.

Instead of losing the flow of covering classroom content because of snow or ice, "this gives an opportunity for continuation," Riddle said. "What we're looking at is not just having assignments available, but also having staff available. If students have questions, they can email and reach out to their instructor for clarification or more information if they need it."

Riddle said more guidance will be coming from the state on e-learning parameters, but the district's plan will take into consideration students who do not have internet at home and the possibility that high school students might be caring for younger siblings on e-learning days and not be able to finish their work.

"We want to build in some buffers and try to anticipate some of the things they may run into," Riddle said.

Riddle's already reached out to colleagues in northern Illinois districts which piloted e-learning days in 2018-19 to provide feedback and information Mendon can use in its plan.

"The academics and assignments focus on what students are working on at the time of the e-learning day," said Colleen Pacatte, superintendent of Gurnee School District 56 which participated in the state's e-learning pilot, said in a news release from the Illinois State Board of Education. "By the time you start adding days to the end of the school year, kids are checked out, families are checked out and everybody knows that they're jumping through hoops. An e-learning day is more meaningful than adding days at the end of the school year."

Webb sees other advantages to the e-learning day provision.

"The other advantage is it's the way individuals are going to be learning in the future. Most colleges and universities have distance education, most companies have online learning, so it's good that our kids get the opportunity to do that in school, and it's good to take advantage from home, too," he said. "It builds a certain amount of discipline and builds skills in learning online which our kids are going to be doing probably for the rest of their lives."

The new law also reinstates the requirement that a school day consist of a minimum of five hours of instructional time. But ISBE said the law provides exceptions to the requirement for students enrolled in dual credit, participating in supervised career development experiences, participating in youth apprenticeships and participating in blended learning programs.

"Thoughtful discussions among ISBE, school administrators, lawmakers, educators and other stake-holders resulted in a solution that meets our twin goals of flexibility and accountability," State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said.

The school day flexibility is a key component of the competency-based education initiative, which determines skills and knowledge students need to "show mastery" in a particular subject to earn credits toward graduation while offering more flexibility in completing coursework inside and outside the classroom.

"We are taking advantage of all those things at our high school," Webb said.

As part of the state's CBE pilot and waiver program, QPS already had that school day flexibility, but "it's good the law reinforces our ability to do that and all school districts to do that," Webb said.