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South Carolina district moves to replace snow days with 'e-learning days'

Every student in the district will have a Chromebook by November, just in time to institute a pilot program that replaces snow days with virtual school days.

Patience Wait
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Patience Wait Contributing Writer

Patience Wait is a freelance writer and former journalist, covering the information technology market for industry-leading trade sites. She has won...

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School districts around the country have been looking to e-learning as a way to address school closings. In Indiana, for instance, about 170 public and private school districts have been approved to use them.

Now a district in South Carolina, Anderson County School District 5, has been selected to pioneer an e-learning program for K-12 students, school officials announced in a social media post last week. The district has about 14,000 students.

One consequence of establishing the pilot program: no more “snow days.”

District 5 Superintendent Tom Wilson told the Anderson Independent-Mail, “Technology has changed every profession, and we have the technology in place to keep kids working during the snow days and eliminate the makeup days.”

Wilson suggested the e-learning pilot to the state’s Education Oversight Committee in May.

Anderson County, in the north central part of the state, does not get much snow. Greenville, just northeast of the county, averages just three inches a year, for instance. But “snow days” is about more than snow, Wilson told EdScoop.

“We miss a lot of days,” he said. South Carolina gets hit by hurricanes, for instance. “Last year during Hurricane Irma … we missed three days. It’s really more for inclement weather generally, not just snow.”

By moving to e-learning days, the school district can stick to the schedule established at the beginning of the school year and avoid the expense of tacking on extra days at the end. That really helps the kids, Wilson said, because so many children don’t come to school for the makeup days at the end of the year, after exams and graduation.

The district expects real-dollar savings, as well. “There will be a cost savings in fuel alone. If it was implemented statewide, there would be enormous savings,” he said.

As a pilot program, the Education Oversight Committee gave the school district a number of metrics to track, so the data can be used to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and potential application in other districts across the state.

“We signed an agreement on certain data points they’ll be interested in. It’s not just willy-nilly, do what you want,” Wilson said. “It’s to allow them to evaluate the pilot to see how it goes … Obviously, the more days you do this, the more data you’ll have. One year we can have one snow day, another year we may have 10 … We’re well overdue for a major ice storm.”

The school district has invested $11 million in Chromebooks over the past five years, he said, so the e-learning program will expand both the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of the district's one-to-one devices.

“Our students use Chromebook every day. They’re communicating with their teachers seven days a week,” Wilson explained. “This is not earth-shattering. When I drive to school I see kids waiting for the school bus working with their Chromebooks offline … This is not new for these kids.”

The school district’s investment goes beyond the Chromebook hardware, Wilson said. Every school in the district has a digital integration specialist who goes into classrooms and works with teachers to help them make the best use of the technology. There also is a cadre of IT staff available to address technical issues and make repairs, he said.

On the school district’s Facebook post announcing the initiative, parents asked about students in lower grades who don’t take Chromebooks home.

“Students in grades 3-12 will be able to take home Chromebooks,” a school official responded. “We will be 1:1 [for] grades K-12 by October/November of this school year.”

Another parent asked whether internet access would be required. The school district responded no, that students would be able to download assignments to their Chromebooks at school and work on them at home without internet access.

Wilson said the school district is surveying families with children in K-2 to see how many of them have siblings in 3-12 who already have Chromebooks. District officials are looking into how many students may not have internet access at home, just in case. Wilson said students could use smartphones to access their lessons, as well. And students will be given five days to complete e-learning assignments, to account for any hiccups.

Schools will designate e-learning days when closings are announced on local news, on the district website and by school messenger calls, according to published reports. Assignments will be loaded electronically into Google Classroom, which all District 5 teachers are using in their classrooms for lessons, resources and student support.

“As we implement [this], we’ll be teaching all the teachers how to be prepared well before the inclement weather shows up, so they’ll have a plan in place,” Wess Grant, the district’s COO, said.

As for being able to enjoy a rare Southern snowfall, Grant said kids will have a chance to be kids.

“What our teachers will do is post ‘classroom hours.’ It might be from 8 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., so it’s not like the kids won’t be able to go out and play in the snow,” he said.

Reach the reporter at pwaitster@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @edscoop_news.

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Education IT News, Edtech, K-12, Policy, Virtual Schools, e-learning days, South Carolina, virtual school days

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