BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – For several years now a small group of school districts in Iowa have been tinkering with holding virtual classes on snow days.
That idea is gathering steam around the country and with county school officials.
Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said that district is looking at using virtual learning for snow days this year. But Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said that district will not, unless snow days,… pile up.
Crozier said the state mandates that the virtual learning be a K-12 program and he said that can prove difficult for elementary parents who are at that point in the morning”scrambling”.
“It’s really challenging when elementary parents are scrambling for daycare coverage, and now they have to have kids ready to sit for a zoom class or other medium,” Crozier said.
But he said the board is considering the option if snow days surpass four this year.
“We just kind of said this year, a snow day is a snow day. We’re not going to strip those away from the kids. We want to make sure it’s time for a mental break. But if looks like we’re headed into June, then we’ll consider going to virtual instruction,” he said.
The Fort Madison school district is on the last three days of hybrid learning after voting earlier this month to go back to daily face-to-face learning on Nov. 2. The district started the year in a hybrid week-in, week-out model and conducted a survey showing a majority of parents wanted kids back in school.
Slater said the year has been disrupted enough and officials want to reduce that as much as possible through the remainder of the year.
“Staff, students and families have seen many disruptions to learning during the pandemic,” Slater said.
“A snow day interrupts the flow of learning and we want to capture learning on an on-going/uninterrupted basis as much as possible. We see this as a benefit rather then adding on days in June when learning is not at an optimal level; nor is the climate temperature in our elementary buildings.”
She said the move doesn’t require board approval, however the board has been made aware that virtual learning on snow days is a part of the learning plan this year.
With the district starting in the hybrid model utilizing virtual learning, Slater said the students would adjust easily to the shift on a cancelled school day due to weather.
‘Having students work online during a snow day would not be foreign to our students,” she said.
Crozier said the Central Lee board feels students learn best in the classroom and not online.
“We have at least three snow days before our calendar is pushed into June. If we have a 4th day we will be above that threshold. But at this point, we’re not going to convert snow days to virtual learning,” Crozier said.
The administration at Central Lee surveyed the staff and Crozier said about 40% favored the model of using virtual learning as a last resort to keep the calendar out of June. The other 60% were split down the middle of using virtual learning, and not.
Slater said the year has been stressful for teachers and staff, but she said the results have been outstanding.
“Our teachers have done an outstanding job of responding to students, families, and to the change in how teaching is being delivered,” she said.
“This year has been extremely stressful for our educators as teaching looks completely different, not just in Fort Madison, but across the country.
“Our teachers have been working extremely hard to ensure the best learning possible every day. I am extremely proud of all of our teachers and how they continue to put kids first.”
Slater said the district has four days built into the 2020-21 school calendar. She said the Iowa Department of Education allows up to five consecutive days of virtual learning due to inclement weather.