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Legislation could offer snow day alternative

(News-Chronicle photo by Adelle Whitefoot

Snow days have been a staple of Minnesota winters for decades, but a new bill currently under consideration could spell an end to lazy days playing in the snow when it proves too deep for the buses to roll.

The Minnesota State Legislature is currently considering a bill that would give school districts the option to turn traditional snow days into "E-learning days" where students and teachers would continue to work together by conducting online discussions and assignments. The bill, HF 1421, was introduced by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and would allow districts to schedule up to five E-learning days during inclement weather that would count as a full day of instruction.

The bill would require the school board and teachers to agree to an E-learning plan and parents would be notified at the beginning of the school year. The E-learning plan would also require schools to include accommodations for students who don't have Internet access or digital devices and for students with disabilities.

"It's a bill that encourages innovation," Drazkowski said. "It keeps teachers teaching, and students learning."

The Zumbrota-Mazeppa school district introduced Weather Induced Learning Days (WILD) in 2015. Dave Anderson, an administrator in the district, said during testimony before the House Education Innovation Policy Committee that it's received a positive response from administrators and parents.

Angela Heitman, a teacher and parent in the district, also testified before the committee and said the "breaks" in learning snow days cause are mitigated WILD education days.

"That was the biggest thing as a teacher, they can continue the subject that we're on," Heitman said. "So I teach biology and we can't do the labs like in school, but there is something out there that is supplemental and usually it's something I wouldn't necessarily have had time for in the classroom, but then they can do something that's supplemental to our curriculum at that time."

Lake Superior School District superintendent Bill Crandall said going to an E-Learning system like that in Zumbrota-Mazeppa would be problematic in this district. Not only does LSSD have students without a device to conduct an E-learning day, some students, as well as potentially some teachers, do not yet have access to broadband Internet service at their homes. Crandall also said that he felt current digital or online class components are not robust enough to fill an entire day, particularly at the elementary level.

"At this point in time we would need to make sure it would work and if we were told we had to do it tomorrow it wouldn't work for us," he said. "If we knew that we were going to go in that direction, we would prepare for that and have our teachers set up something so it's always prepared so if it does come to fruition that we are going to do an E-learning day, everyone would know you need to access this and if you don't have access here are the alternatives."

In addition, over the past few years, LSSD students have faced only one closure and even that closure was just at William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay and was caused by an electrical problem in the building. However, prior to the 2014-15 school year, there were consecutive winters with multiple closures that lasted more than one day.

Crandall also said districts like Zumbrota-Mazeppa that are using E-learning days may have a "one-to-one" ratio of devices to students and more universal access to broadband Internet service. The Digital Device Initiative Committee, which was established to explore the potential of a one-to-one device ratio and digital curriculums, reported to the school board Tuesday with the conclusion that currently there is scant evidence of digital curriculums positively impacting student performance and the implementation and maintenance of such a curriculum is cost-prohibitive at this point.

The House committee laid the bill over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill and there is a companion bill, SF 1241, with bipartisan sponsorship that awaits action by the Senate E-12 Policy Committee.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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