Office of Digital Learning
Missed Snow Days, "Blizzard Bags" and "E-Learning Days"*
The below information appeared in the February 13, 2015 Commissioner's Weekly Update:
With respect to missed school days, the current policy is online. Although the commissioner has authority to reduce the student learning time requirements in extraordinary circumstances, that has always been a last resort. Districts should be making a good faith effort to adjust school calendars for the balance of the year. If the remainder of the winter yields continued weather emergencies, ESE will reevaluate whether there is a need to grant waivers to individual districts, but the agency does not expect to issue a general, state-wide waiver.
The Department has received inquiries regarding so-called "blizzard bags," assigned work sent home with students in advance of an expected storm. In many cases, this work appears to be very similar to normal homework assignments; there is educational value, but it does not necessarily meet the standard for structured learning time. For this approach to count toward the student learning time requirements, school districts must ensure that such work is structured learning time, is substantial, and has appropriate oversight and teacher involvement. To the degree that learning outside of the school setting may rely upon parental involvement or access to technology, districts must also account for the widely varying circumstances in students' homes. Districts are encouraged to share their experiences as they experiment with different models so that all can learn about their effectiveness and develop examples of best practices.
Some districts have asked about lengthening the school day so that the minimum total learning time requirement (900 hours in elementary schools and 990 hours in secondary schools) can be met in fewer than 180 days. The Department has not previously approved such arrangements. However, if a district has made every effort to reschedule the lost days, including the use of April vacation and professional development days, we are willing to consider proposals for longer days to make up any remaining days. Such proposals must demonstrate a positive impact on student learning. The amount of time being added to a day must be significant, the reduction in the total number of days must be minimal, and districts will need to provide information on implementation issues including teacher contract provisions, bus schedules, parent input, and students' ability to participate in afterschool activities. Any district interested in pursuing such an option should contact Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson (781-338-6500 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss the details.
Finally, as districts plan their calendars and schedules for next year, ESE again encourages leaders to think about alternatives that would enhance student learning while at the same time provide more flexibility to deal with weather-related closures. These include holding the first day of school before Labor Day, scheduling a one-week vacation in March instead of week-long vacations in February and April, and notifying parents, teachers, and students that vacations may be cancelled or shortened if multiple school days have to be made up. If you have a proposal for an innovative calendar that would require relief from the 180-day requirement, ESE would like to hear about it. Information on applying for waivers to implement such a program is available online.
*Some districts and states are exploring "E-Learning Days" as a continuity of learning strategy so students can continue to learn when schools are forced to close because of winter weather or other circumstances.