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E-Learning on Snow Days in Pennsylvania, Kentucky Raises Concerns

Kentucky and Pennsylvania are among the states creating opportunities for districts to deliver online instruction to students who are homebound due to inclement weather, but some are concerned about the plans, according to two stories published today.

The Associated Press reports that Kentucky's plan to let 13 districts replace snow days with a set-up in which students receive instruction at home, mostly via the Internet, has "caused a new set of challenges."  

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"Some students don't have computers or home Internet access," the AP story reads, and "districts that opt to use the home-school option would lose state transportation dollars and federal money for free and reduced lunches."

Kentucky also ranks 46th out of 50 states on the availability of high-speed Internet, according to the story, creating potential barriers for some students, especially those living in poor and rural districts. One potential solution is decidedly low-tech: Students in Kentucky's Owsley County schools who cannot access the Internet at home would receive "prepared snow day work packets" to take home, according to the AP.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Sentinel, a news organization for Cumberland County in the center of the state, reports that connectivity is also a major concern.

"We have areas in our district that are still DSL...and if it's truly bad enough weather they will lose power altogether," Rich Fry, the superintendent of the 2,700-student Big Spring school district, is quoted as saying.

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education approved a plan to let districts submit proposals for "flexible instructional days" in the event of inclement weather or unplanned days off.

But many districts in the state, especially those in rural areas, lack widespread connectivity, an issue that raises its head even under normal circumstances.

"In the Big Spring school district, the schools have hot spots in the parking lots and there's one in the stadium, and it's common to see a student sitting in the parking lot downloading an assignment or doing their homework because they don't have that connection at home," the Sentinel writes.

Elementary education is also a concern: Literacy activities for younger students in Big Spring will be provided through offline activities, the story says.

Despite the challenges, its likely that both states—and others—will continue their push to leverage technology to reduce lost instructional time due to bad weather. In Kentucky last year, the AP reported, some districts were forced to cancel school for more than a month. 

Photo: A front end loader fills a trailer with snow to clear off a school bus lot in Kalamazoo, Mich. --Mark Bugnaski/Kalamazoo Gazette/AP


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