DES MOINES, Iowa — Record snowfall this winter has left Iowa students out of school and state lawmakers are weighing if there’s a better way to make up for lost teaching time.
Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, introduced a bill that would establish a committee to look into virtual learning as an option when inclement weather keeps Iowa students out of the classroom.
“We need to do what we can to utilize technology not only to help out kids learn today but to prepare for the workforce of tomorrow,” said Schneider, who said he looked into a proposal after a school official in his district reached out.
As schools across the state are poised to make up eight school days on average this year, a panel of lawmakers Thursday gave the first stamp of approval to the proposal establishing an work group in the legislative off season tasked with looking at other states already using so-called e-learning in place of a traditional school day.
“I think this would be helpful,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Iowa City, said at the hearing. “If nothing else helping us as a legislature figure out what our options are.”
Iowa can look next door to Illinois, where a handful of school districts got the green light from their state legislature to establish pilot e-learning programs.
“Our goal is when we run an e-learning day is to keep to curriculum moving forward…. to get our kids engaged, learn more and progress towards their goals,” said Dr. Nick Polyak, superintendent of a school district in the Chicago suburbs. “Because that’s better—we think—than adding a day on at the end of the year.”
Polyak says there is pending legislation in that state would all districts to join in because of the program’s success. Under his school district’s structure, students need to check-in for attendance via a Google form by 1 p.m. on the day of a snow cancellation and will have a number of assignments for different subjects, which they can access via an online portal.
“There’s value in our students understanding that learning can happen outside the confines of a school building,” Polyak said. “So the E-learning day teach them that learning can happen at any day at any time.”
Education groups at Thursday’s meeting voiced support for the idea of looking into alternatives for schools to make up classwork, but voiced concern that e-learning might not be the only answer.
“We are very concerned about using online learning to count as those days when you consider access issues, when you consider students with disabilities or English language learners,” said Emily Piper of the Iowa Association of School Boards. “Our request would be to expand this beyond online learning.”
Schools in other states like Indiana and Ohio already allow assigned coursework online when a snow day keeps students at home.
The proposal will get a full committee hearing Monday in the Iowa Senate.