No more snow days? Some school districts are warming up to the idea

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CLEVELAND, Ohio--  No more snow days?!

Students may not like it, but school districts across the country are rapidly warming to the idea.

Instead of being off, students are required to participate in mandatory eLearning from home.

“I would be furious. I would be like, mom, bye bye; we’re going to a different school,” said 8-year-old Mateo Ontiveros in Painesville.

Although kids oppose the idea, a growing number of superintendents believe eLearning is the wave of the future.

“It’s basically what the world of work is doing, you know, people work from home.  The traditional office has changed; well, the classroom needs to change with it,” said Tom Wilson, superintendent at Anderson County School District 5 in South Carolina.

The Palmetto State passed a law last year that created one of the most comprehensive pilot programs in the country, currently being tested in five S.C. districts including Anderson 5.

“So far we’ve had two eLearning days: one because of a hurricane and one because of ice,” said Wilson. “Quite honestly,  we’ve been pleased with the feedback.”

In the past, Wilson says there was a lot of pressure deciding whether or not to close the buildings, and the possibility of getting it wrong and having to make up the days.

Now they make the decision as soon as they see a bad forecast. “And worst case scenario they have an eLearning day.”

Before students even leave the building they download the next day's assignments on their Chromebooks, just in case the power goes out or they don’t have access to the internet.

In recent years, the district invested $11 million purchasing Chromebooks for all students K-12.

“This is not homework; it’s very different from homework,” said Anna Baldwin, director of eLearning and Integration. “It’s continuing the instructional process.”

Using Google Classroom, teachers can interact with students and monitor their work. They can see all of their students screens in real time.

Baldwin says this allows teachers to send links and reference materials to anyone who might be struggling, and a friendly warning to any student caught goofing off.

They can also interact via emails, instant messages and text messages.

“So it is like being in the same room, but you’re not,” said Baldwin.

Chromebooks and the support staff are funded through a one cent sales tax, and both teachers and students are required to do the work.

“Some people think you’re gonna be on the computer for 8 hours, no, in order to be counted as present you have to complete 200 minutes of instructional time,” said Baldwin. “And if there is an issue they have five days to make up the work when they return to school.”

Some students told FOX 8’s Suzanne Stratford, who traveled to Anderson, that they’d still rather have the day off, but others said they like eLearning because it prevents them from having to make up the missed days during spring break or summer.

“Personally, me and my friends were excited, because I do my work regardless, but to not have to come back that’s a plus for me,” said senior Ashlyn Kelley. “I also like the independence, like I’m gonna get it done on my own time.”

Parents, too, told FOX 8 they like not having to cancel vacation plans or rearrange schedules for make-up days.

Although Carrie Pannell, whose son is in the third grade, admits there have been some challenges, because she and her husband both work.

“Since he’s a little younger, there was a little growing pain, for teachers too,” said Carrie. “Some of the work took longer than they thought it would take at home, so, you know, we do some that night and a little each night until we get it done.”

“It’s alright,” said 9-year-old William Pannell. “Sometimes I take a little break...like recess...and lunch.”

Taking breaks is just fine with Superintendent Wilson.

He says eLearning isn’t about taking away a snow day.

He wants students to still have time to go outside and play on those rare occasions when they actually get snow.

He also believes that eLearning should never and could never replace the classroom, but it does make financial sense.

“When we have snow make-up days, quite honestly, it was a waste, because you’re opening up buildings, running air conditioning, running buses, and only 20% of kids would be there,” said Wilson.

Others clearly agree.

Since launching the program, school districts from across the country and Canada have contacted Superintendent Wilson.

We asked the Ohio Department of Education if they would consider implementing such a program here.

A spokesperson responded “not at this time,” making many Northeast Ohio students very happy.

"I think you should be excited," said Mateo. "Because you don’t want to have your dreams get crushed."

***Much more on eLearning Days, HERE***

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