Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner passed a measure four months ago that created a pilot program for virtual learning days in schools. The idea was to keep snow or emergency days to a minimum during the school year.
Now, the Illinois State Board of Education has announced the participating districts.
The three districts chosen for the e-learning days pilot program were Gurnee School District 56, Community High School District 94 in West Chicago, and Leyden High School District 212 in Franklin Park. Illinois State Board of Education officials say those three districts were the only ones that applied to participate in the program.
“Now when we think about cancelling school for a weather emergency, we now have two options.” Doug Domeracki, the superintendent for the West Chicago high school district, said. “We have an option to just cancel the day. And now we have … what this legislation really did was it allowed us to just have another option. And that second option is to call that day an e-learning day.”
Domeracki is also one of the authors of the law.
Currently, Illinois schools are allowed five emergency days per year. Domeracki says the law gives schools a maximum of five e-learning days on top of that, and one e-learning day means five hours of online coursework within that day.
Domeracki says he knew several other districts that planned to apply, but they may have backed out due to a lack of certain resources:
“In Illinois, there’s something called the Tri Conference, which is … it brings together a lot of the school boards, the school leadership throughout the state every year in November, and we’re talking about already presenting this next year, because there’s a lot of interest,” he said.
All Illinois school districts were able to apply for the pilot program. The application process involved answering questions about things like accommodations for students with disabilities, monitoring student participation and internet access from home.
Domeracki says having a program that supplies laptops or tablets for students wasn’t necessary to apply, but it definitely helps.
“I would tell you that, for a district that did not have a 1:1 technology initiative, it would’ve been almost impossible to have an e-learning day if you’re asking the students to have an electronic platform,” he said.
West Chicago Community High School started a one-to-one technology initiative this year, meaning every student was issued a Chromebook laptop.
According to the Illinois Report Card website, almost half of the high school’s students are low-income -- meaning those students receive free or reduced school lunches. However, Domeracki says that doesn’t mean that many don’t have internet access at home.
“We surveyed our student body to find out who has internet access at home and how do they have that internet access. And it turned out that about 94 percent of our students have internet access at their house,” he said.
For the six percent, hot spots will be available to check out from the school library. Domeracki says the district purchased 100 so far and will order more if there’s a need for it.
Nick Polyak is superintendent of the Leyden High School district. He says a one-to-one Chromebook initiative has been in place since 2012.
Illinois Report Card says about 2,000 students within that district are low-income. Polyak says about 17 percent of surveyed students didn’t have internet access at home.
Polyak says a ConnectED grant from Sprint and the White House gives free Internet access to students that need it.
“We were approved through the grant for … I wanna say that the number was approximately 700 hot spots … and to date, we’ve given out dozens of them, and that process is ongoing,” Polyak said.
John Hutton is superintendent of Gurnee School District 56, which has pre-kindergarten through eighth grades. He says every student there receives an iPad.
Hutton says his district will order hot spots that students can check out, but after it also surveys student need for internet access.
“Because we have a 1:1 initiative, teachers have a pretty good idea of those kids that have not had connectivity at home already,” Hutton said.
Polyak says he optimistic about the program’s potential.
“I think it gives our students a lesson that teaching and learning aren’t confined to classrooms or to 50-minute class periods,” Polyak said. “Teaching and learning can happen whenever and wherever we all are.”