Cyber School Not a Fix for Snow Days

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 3, 2014 12:00 am  

Alan Wilbourn

Students may love nothing more than a snow day.

Who wouldn’t want to stay home, maybe go sledding at the neighborhood park and sit around watching TV all day?

But for parents and schools, snow days are a lot more problematic.

A school district such as West Fork in Washington County, which had 18 school days erased by winter weather so far this year, has found that making up for lost time takes some doing. State law requires students to attend 178 days with a minimum of 360 minutes of instruction during each school year.

West Fork teachers voted to make up five days by having school during spring break and to extend the school year into early June, said Superintendent John Karnes.

West Fork is one of at least seven school districts that have applied to the state for a waiver because of snow days. Karnes said his district applied Wednesday for a waiver for any future cancellations because the school plans to make up the missing 18 days — fully a tenth of the school year.

Catholic schools in the state experimented this winter, on a limited basis of one or two days, of using “cyber days” to replace weather-wrecked school days. But public school officials said there are many logistical and economical obstacles to home computer days.

For one thing, it is not currently allowed by law, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Education said they know of no move to allow computer-based teaching to take the place of snow days.

Karnes said it would be difficult for the West Fork School District because many of his students don’t have access to the Internet or even cellphone reception. “I’m not saying it’s not an option in the future,” Karnes said of computer classes. “Access is certainly a hurdle we’d have to deal with.”

Vernell Bowen, the superintendent of the state’s Catholic school system, said about 10 of her 28 schools tried computer class days this winter. She and her staff reviewed each lesson plan before it was posted online — she said students without Internet access were given hard copies — and the overall response was positive.

“There were some grumbles from parents who said, ‘Snow day should be fun day,’” Bowen said. “It’s only one day. After one day, students are bored to death.”




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