Snow days and extended school years that alter summer schedules may become obsolete in District 65’s near future, thanks to e-learning opportunities that were developed during the pandemic.

A January snowfall in Evanston. Snow days may soon be a thing of the past for District 65. (RoundTable file photo)

At Monday’s Board meeting, the proposed e-learning plan was unanimously approved for submission to the State for final approval. Board President Anya Tanyavutti explained that the “plan allows for the implementation of e-learning days when school is unexpectedly closed in the event of snow or other weather-related events, and in lieu of using an emergency make-up day.”

Board member Joseph Hailpern sought clarification from Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Beardsley on a few points before the vote, including, “When do you determine when to do the e-learning day versus take the emergency day at the back end?” He also questioned how to support students who struggled with e-learning last year and “How many days is OK” to have e-learning.

Beardsley replied that there are “a couple of pieces built into the plan where we would evaluate if we have more than three consecutive days of e-learning … for students with IEPs and for early childhood students.” She said that K-8 students “would receive 2.5 hours of synchronous learning,” and to support students who are not connecting online, part of the staff workday would be spent looking “into what we can do to reach out to those families and determine what the barriers are for accessing learning.”

With the exception of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beardsley said that in her seven years in the District, “we’ve not had more than one consecutive day where we’ve needed to draw on this type of plan.” However, she noted that each situation has to be examined individually, for instance “if it’s a power outage [at the school], we have a lot more opportunity to get devices out and learning out to kids, and address it in a responsive manner than if we had a natural weather emergency … like in New Orleans.”

Beardsley said that the District administration would decide on a case-by-case basis if a day should be an e-learning or an emergency day. She noted that there is a desire from the administrative standpoint to “minimize the number of those emergency days in the calendar,” and “even if we use an emergency day, these are added to the end of the school year, generally after the report card window is closed.” Optimizing the number of active learning days would thus be best served with an e-learning day, as opposed to adding days at the end of the school year calendar. 

Extending the school year to accommodate emergency days also “gets in the way of summer programs starting for families too. So it actually delays some of the provision of supervision, camps, child care … that could also be beneficial to our families,” Beardsley said.

In response to Hailpern’s question as to whether the people who have to ultimately execute the plan, namely teachers, were involved in any aspect of the plan, Beardsley replied that the “plan is fairly similar to what we ultimately launched last spring. And that plan was developed with input from educators and building leaders, where we landed on the 2½-hour structure.”

She said that the spring plan had been shared with District 65’s Educator’s Council President Maria Barroso, who “reviewed it and said that essentially what is in the plan made sense to her.” Barroso, contacted later by the RoundTable, confirmed that was her view.

Evanston Township High School District 202 may approve a similar plan to use e-learning days and avoid school cancellations; ETHS has a public hearing on e-learning days scheduled for Oct. 11.

Bessie Mbadugha

Bessie N. A. Mbadugha took a hiatus from her previous life as a Chemistry professor to devote more time to her family, and became an active leader in numerous community initiatives in Hillsborough, North...