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Living in Michigan always creates challenging issues with school calendars and trying to predict the number of “snow days.” Given the extraordinary weather we have seen over the last 6 weeks, many schools are asking questions about what it all means.
Per state law, schools (other than cyber charter schools) are allowed to count 6 “snow days” toward their days and hours requirement. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction may allow up to 3 more "relief" days. So far, nearly 200 districts have applied for the relief. About half have been granted and no one has been denied yet. See the list of those that applied for the waiver and their status here.
There are also a few pieces of legislation swirling around that would either allow schools to count solely hours or exempt the days when a state of emergency has been declared. While the amount of “snow days” has been high this year, it isn’t unprecedented. In 2013, the legislature saw similar amounts and passed a law that forgave some of those days. In 2015, there were a high amount, but then State Superintendent felt strongly that the kids needed the extra instructional time and most schools made up the days.
While we don’t have a crystal ball, I would suspect that the State Superintendent will be liberal in allowing the waivers for the 3 additional days. I also believe that legislation will likely gain traction, but that is harder to predict.
That being said, in today’s technology age, it is hard to imagine that we can only count instructional time when there is a butt in a seat. Many working professionals, including those of us at MAPSA, enjoy the flexibility of working from home or from remote locations, as the majority of our shared work is stored and updated either on shared servers or online systems, like Google Drive. We know that as technology also increases in the classroom, instruction can be shared on some of those same digital platforms for students on snow days, preventing some of that lost instructional time.
As a community of innovators, I firmly believe charters can and will lead the industry in finding creative technology solutions for bad weather days. In fact, some of us already are; many of our blended learning charters are accustomed to taking advantage of technology, and did so very well over the snow days.
NexTech High School of Lansing Principal, Jamie DeWitt, explains both the challenges and the solutions they experienced over the long period of snow days.
Our students have 24/7 access to the online learning "side" of our learning environment, but they still use the on-campus time as a motivator for their independent work. If the classroom experiences are not there to guide and drive the learning, the at-home activities can suffer. As more snow days accumulated, we started sending Remind Texts to our students, engaging Facebook and Instagram posts, and emails that reminded students to work on assignments from home.
Our staff also engaged in a work day during one of this year's snow days and we even had a remote all-staff meeting using Google Hangouts," said DeWitt, "Looking to the future, I am hopeful that our students will be used to a "snow day protocol" where we are able to engage with them, meaningfully, during these days off. As the technology advances and helps us cross these boundaries, we need to work as learners to understand new expectations and procedures.
Michigan International Prep School Director of Program Advancement, Charles Carver, also weighed in.
We have 4 physical drop in learning lab locations throughout the state. When the weather does not allow for the labs to be open, those are definitely "days on" for all MIPS students and staff. Our staff uses these days to communicate with their students in a multitude of ways - phone calls, emails, text messaging, and synchronous video chats via Go To Meeting. Weather has zero impact on our kids' ability to get their work done for the day, write papers, and progress towards graduation.
As we look forward, it's tough to say how this year's snow days will impact the rest of the school year. We're hopeful that the legislature will accommodate schools to the best of their ability, but it's a waiting game at this point. But looking forward to the many winters to come, I think we can all take a page from our cyber and blended friends' books, and utilize creative virtual instruction strategies for snow days. And if you DID in fact find a fun workaround during the Snowpocalypse, please post it to your school's Facebook page and tag MAPSA!