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School Redesign

Alternative Structured Learning Day Programs

To:
Superintendents, Charter School Boards of Trustees, and School Principals
From:
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:
January 5, 2018

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This memorandum provides information to assist school committees and charter school boards of trustees with the development of "alternative structured learning day programs"1 as possible solutions to scheduling issues posed by inclement weather so the minimum student learning time requirement of 900 hours for elementary schools, 990 hours for secondary schools, and a total of 180 days may be met.

While the concept of alternative structured learning day programs continues to be relatively new in Massachusetts, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) recognizes that such programs are designed to reduce the number of additional school days beyond the 180 required days and minimize student learning disrupted by weather related emergencies by providing alternative learning activities for students that may be completed at home. These programs may be an alternative option for schools to pursue as long as they can ensure that the program meets the standard for structured learning time and that the assignments and/or projects are substantial. These programs must also be accessible, include appropriate oversight and teacher involvement rather than resembling traditional homework assignments, and be approved by the district school committee or charter school boards of trustees.

To the degree that learning outside of the school setting may rely upon parental involvement or access to technology, school committees and charter school boards of trustees must also account for the widely varying circumstances in students' homes and guarantee that the alternative structured learning day program is accessible to all students. In general, alternative structured learning day programs that include a digital learning component must:

  • Consider how to accommodate students without internet or devices at home and households with multiple children who share a single device, for example, by developing paper materials to be used by those students who do not have internet access. However, in any case, the school must ensure that all students will have access to educational materials during a storm.
  • Be able to serve all students, including students who receive special education services.
  • Have teachers available who must participate on the days when the program is implemented.

Additionally, school committees and charter school boards of trustees must allow sufficient planning time for administrators, teachers, staff, and other members of the school community, as appropriate, to thoughtfully and transparently design the alternative structured learning day program prior to implementation. This includes the time needed to design the format and parameters of grade-level assignments, lessons, and/or projects for each participating grade, and if necessary, an online platform that will contain all alternative structured learning day related content and information. Given that inclement weather is somewhat unpredictable, leaders need to determine how to approach these challenges so the alternative structured learning days resemble the scope and depth of learning provided in a classroom lesson. Further, if your school committee or charter school board of trustees is considering developing and piloting such a program the following should be considered:

  • Determine the circumstances for which an alternative structured learning day program will be activated, and clearly communicate this to all stakeholders in the district. For example, a school committee or charter school board of trustees may determine that the program will go into effect after 3 weather-related school closures.
  • Set clear due dates for assignments and/or projects and clearly articulate what completion means.
  • Conduct a survey at the end of the pilot/implementation to allow feedback from stakeholders and to evaluate the success of the alternative structured learning day program.

Given that alternative structured learning day programs are a reasonable option for creatively making up missed school days due to weather-related closures, as well as the fact that districts are required to schedule 185 days, as a back up to the required 180 days, the Department will only consider hardship waivers 603 CMR 27.00 in extraordinary circumstances. Should you have any questions regarding hardship waivers, please contact Helene Bettencourt at hbettencourt@doe.mass.edu or 781-338-3120.

As schools and districts continue to move forward with the development and implementation of alternative structured learning day programs, the Department encourages you to share your process and any lessons learned.

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Additional Student Learning Time Resources

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Massachusetts Student Learning Time Regulations 603 CMR 27.00
Under the Massachusetts Student Learning Time regulations, school committees and charter school boards of trustees are required to schedule a school year that includes at least 185-days at each school, and are required to operate each school for at least 180-days per school year. In addition, schools must ensure that students are scheduled to receive a minimum of 900 hours of structured learning time per school year for elementary school students and a minimum of 990 hours of structured learning time per school year for secondary school students. Kindergarten students must receive a minimum of 425 hours of structured learning time per school year. Please access the link above to access the Massachusetts student learning time regulations.

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Student Learning Time Questions and Answers
This is a handy collection/guide of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Student Learning Time.

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Massachusetts Student Learning Time Waiver Process
In April 2013 the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education granted the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education authority to approve waivers for innovative programs that are expecting to operate less than the hour and day requirements established in the Massachusetts Student Learning Time Regulations (603 CMR 27.00). The intent of this waiver process is to enable innovative programs and schedules that will benefit students educationally and improve student learning. This waiver process is not intended for emergency cases or extraordinary circumstances (e.g., natural disaster) that force the closing of one or more of the district's schools. Please visit the student learning time waiver process website for additional information, including but not limited to the application and timelines.

Please contact Shay Edmond (sedmond@doe.mass.edu / 781-338-3217) and/or Ruth Hersh (rhersh@doe.mass.edu / 781-338-3211) with any questions or concerns. You can also send general questions to the redesign@doe.mass.edu email address.

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Last Updated: January 5, 2018
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