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June 7, 2014

Conneaut considers 'cyber days,' not snow days

(Continued)

LINESVILLE — How it will work

The district is taking a two-pronged approach to cyber snow days involving both traditional, paper-based materials and the Internet.

Because of that advance notice that a snow day may be in the offing, paper-based packets are being created for families without Internet access, with multiple kids and only one computer and with elementary school students requiring a print version of the materials, Sperry explained. To avoid problems with Internet accessibility, students with iPads can download a “bundle” and have work available offline before they leave for the day, he added.

In an interview with LancasterOnline, Dumaresq identified two key concerns with cyber snow days: First, it must be shown that all students have the equipment and connections to provide “equal access” to education as required under state law; and second, the program must be able to serve the special needs program.

In response to concerns about access, today, all Conneaut students in grades nine through 12 have district-issued iPads, and a recent survey indicated that more than 90 percent of the district’s middle school students have Internet access at home, Sperry said. Elementary snow day assignments will involve a combination of online and packet work, depending on the age of the child and what they can and can’t do independently, he said. In fact, teachers have already volunteered to create samples of what their snow day instruction would look like, Sperry said.

One kindergarten teacher created videos with worksheets so her kids would watch a video of her and then answer some questions, he said. They would either answer online or with paper and pencil and turn it in on the next school day.

In Conneaut, children with special needs are already in cyber school and special education teachers are working with them through chat, email and personal phone calls to help them with their homework, Sperry said.

Sperry addressed possible concerns that special needs students attending brick-and-mortar schools might not be able to make full use of the “cyber snow days” materials with a reminder that snow days almost always occur only one day at a time.

“There’s no reason they couldn’t meet with their special ed teacher when they return,” Sperry said. “Part of our rubric is that all kids have time to get work done if they can’t get it done that day.”

Snow isn’t the only issue the new program would be prepared to address. “Districts are supposed to have a plan for a pandemic — and we could continue education through a pandemic,” Sperry said.

It might come as no surprise to learn that Sperry sees the cyber snow program as a pretty positive thing. “It’s northwest Pennsylvania leading for the state,” he said with a grin.

But that isn’t all. Once the 2014-15 snow season is complete, Sperry and Bossard expect to head back to Harrisburg to address successes and pitfalls in their plan and outline a plan for moving forward.

“Let a school district set a school calendar and it’s set,” Sperry said. “No snow day. Families can make plans without fear that they’ll lose a snow day.”

Mary Spicer recently retired from her post as an education and municipal government reporter with The Meadville Tribune.

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