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Schools tweak strategies for weather days

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Students board a school bus during snowy weather. (Source: Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian/MGN) Students board a school bus during snowy weather. (Source: Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian/MGN)
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(RNN) - Spring break looked different for several elementary and high school students around the country thanks to a nasty weather pattern that swept through months ago.

The frigid winter brought an unusually high number of canceled days - even those in states where snow is more prevalent - and is now taking a toll on normal vacation time, weekends and summer break.

According to Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, at least five states have dealt with this problem through e-learning.

The process allows teachers to upload work online and have students view it with a connected device at home.

Schools in Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana and Pennsylvania are already on board. Though it is important to note use of this technology is left up to school districts or individual schools, not mandated by states.

Domenech acknowledged the gap between those schools and ones in other areas, particularly those where a large number of students come from low-income homes.

"In other states that's an issue, but an issue that's disappearing very quickly," Domenech said. "Everybody has a cell phone, a handheld device, some sort of device that can be used to do this. In communities that are on a lower income scale, districts are beginning to provide for that."

Closing this gap is the priority of ConnectED, the White House's initiative to connect 99 percent of U.S. schools digitally within the next five years.

Part of that plan is to build on programs that already exist to invest in broadband infrastructure for rural areas.

Until then, future bouts of unpredictable weather will likely produce a similar hodgepodge of solutions for making up lost days.

It is usually left up to each administration how it wants to recoup that lost time, and in most cases they are legally required to hold a certain number of educational days each school year.

Catoosa County Public Schools in Georgia, for example, decided to add 20 minutes to each school day until the end of the year. Students start five minutes earlier and dismiss 15 minutes later.

"I know families have vacations planned for spring break and Memorial Day," Superintendent Denia Reese said in a letter to parents. "I believe adding 20 minutes each day is better for families, and for student achievement, than using spring break or adding days at the end of the year."

Not every administration used that school of thought, especially those that burned all their weather days in early January.

"There is no shortage of examples and models out there of what districts can do," Domenech said. "There are districts right now that are off on spring break that have to extend the school year. It varies state by state depending on what each state allows.

"There are states that after a certain number of days allow for forgiveness where you don't have to make those days up. For instance, like Virginia or Maryland, they have provisions that say if they lost more than 10 days they don't have to make those days up."

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