SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As much of KELOLAND prepared for the coming of heavy snowfall Friday, school closing announcements poured into the Closeline. For many students, the impending snow forecasted an early start to the weekend, and a day free of school work. Not so in Adrian, Minnesota.
This is due to mix of state law and technological opportunity.
“We have e-learning, or flexible learning, in Adrian,” explained district Superintendent Molly Schilling. “The state of Minnesota allowed it a couple years ago.”
What this statute does is allow for up to five “flexible learning” days during which the district can do remote learning. After those 5 days are used up, school will either be in-person or cancelled altogether.
Schilling says the statute dates back to the winter of 2018/2019. “That was a really bad winter where a lot of schools had 14+ days of snow days,” she said. “It was a challenge to the learning environment.”
One major effect of the mass of snow days that season was an impact to the continuity of learning, says Schilling. “The continuity of learning is probably the biggest thing — that you don’t have gaps,” she said. “Even taking one or two days off can really make a difference in the process.”
Schilling says the e-learning plan was put together pre-COVID-19.
“We’ve learned a lot since then — we still want it to be as seamless into whatever the curriculum is at the time,” she said. “At Adrian, we utilize the Google Classroom platform and a lot of the Google Drive apps. Teachers have until 10 o’clock to post items and set up the day, and then there’s opportunities for kids to some peer interaction; contact with the teachers from 10 to 3 o’clock, and they have all their assignments posted.”
Schilling says that she and the rest of the district staff are aware of the fact that not every family has the devices and internet access needed for online learning. “We still have a few families that might not have reliable internet, so especially in our younger classrooms we have our teachers design packets and send them home.”
In addition to the use of packets, Schilling says students without internet access are granted 5 additional days after returning to school to complete the work, and are offered in-person help from their teachers in this time.
Prior to the advancement of online learning technology, as well as the enactment of the flexible learning statute, a snow storm would have simply brought a snow day. “Hopefully everybody would be playing in the snow, or staying warm,” said Schilling of these times gone by.
While students may lament the loss of some of these snow days, Schilling says that the flex system has its benefits. “Sometimes if you have too many snow days throughout the year, you might not get to an entire unit.”
Beyond the issue of continuity of learning, Schilling points out the practical matter of the effect snow days have on the school year as a whole. “Families schedule vacations — teachers schedule vacations, you know,” she said.
Schilling went on to note that if snow days are needed, those days must still be accounted for.
“It would be up to the school board members to decide if we’re adding those days on — you might shorten a spring break vacation or something like that — otherwise you might just tack them on at the end,” Schilling said.
Ultimately, Schilling thinks the e-learning system is a good place to start. To all the students in her district, she had this message: “I hope you got your homework done and had some time for some play — see you Monday!”