With cyber school, snow days are living on borrowed time


WASHINGTON, September, 29, 2014 — For the average grade school student, snow days are a bit of a pyrrhic victory. Sure, you get to sleep in today and then go outside to build an igloo, but then you have to make up that day sometime in the summer. Honestly, which of those two days would you rather spend at home?

Pennsylvania may have come up with a solution, and it may do away with snow days altogether.

As originally reported by Lancaster Online, Pennsylvania’s Department of Education has announced an experimental pilot program that would allow state schools to assign what they’re calling “virtual work” during snow-related school closings.

Naturally, there are a number of stipulations in place that interested schools will need to abide by.

To begin with, schools must ensure that students would have convenient access to the coursework from their homes. In addition, before they’ll be able to take part, each school district will be required to submit sample assignments along with an explanation about how, for example, special needs students will be accommodated.

It goes without saying, but an initiative like this one might introduce almost as many potential complications as it solves. It’s clear enough already that not every school would be eligible for, nor capable of, joining the program. Finding the right technology solution to implement something on this scale would certainly be a challenge.

There’s little doubt that the program would result in an added burden to America’s already overtaxed and underpaid schoolteachers; their employee benefits packages don’t leave a lot of wiggle-room for additional responsibilities. Snow days frequently happen with little notice, so teachers would, if notified of a school closing, need to “convert” their existing lesson plans into a format ready for electronic dissemination.

Would that mean teachers would be required to report to school even though the students wouldn’t be? This, and many other questions, have the potential to significantly delay the rollout of this program to schools across the state.

Another factor to consider, particularly for some of the older schools in the northwest, is climate control. School districts accustomed to harsh winters most certainly have functioning heating systems, but the same can frequently not be said about cooling systems.

Many older schools in the country still don’t have a way to reduce the temperature – parents are accustomed to having their children return from school drenched in sweat; classrooms can be unbearably hot, and the ride back home on the bus typically isn’t any better.

So the question becomes: do we want students in school during the colder months or the hotter ones? Pushing the school year further and further into summer has always been an unfortunate consequence of snow days, and one that this cyber school initiative hopes to solve.

The idea of cyber school being used to pick up the slack in a grade school setting is an interesting one. It is clear by now that distance learning has a great deal of potential for students of all ages, particularly where higher learning is concerned. The rest of the country will certainly be watching with interest as Pennsylvania tries something new.

Image Credit: Lars Ploughmann (via Creative Commons)

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