By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of U.S. students stayed home this week due to snow and freezing temperatures, but some kids were not able to spend the day sledding or watching TV.
School districts from Oklahoma to Kentucky to Massachusetts kept students busy in virtual classrooms by assigning work online that was monitored by their teachers.
Younger students or those without computers were not left out. Many of those students received paper materials on the day before bad weather was forecast.
The school districts are trying virtual classes because of theconcern that too many bad-weather days mean losing instruction time, lengthening school days or extending the school year deep into the summer, school officials said.
“Having these online learning days helps to avoid those gaps,” said Dee Dee Nauert, who teaches fifth and sixth graders at Notre Dame Academy in Louisville. “It is harder for the kids to concentrate the later in the year we get.”
Thirteen Kentucky public school districts received state approval to try virtual days during bad weather.
“The work is very rigorous,” said Mark Daniels, director of support services for the Corbin Independent School District, which serves 3,000 students in southeastern Kentucky.He said one student has complained he would rather just go to school.
Attendance is tracked, and teachers are required to be online during the day to answer any questions.
In the Louisville area, about a third of the 46 Catholic elementary and high schools in the archdiocesan system can use virtual learning, for up to five days a year, Superintendent Leisa Schulz said.
Lisa Bowlin, whose son attends St. Albert the Great grade school in Louisville, said it worked fine for her son, who is an only child, but she has heard it is tougher in families with multiple kids and only one computer.
Fort Gibson Public Schools in Oklahoma started its program last year and used it again on Monday, Superintendent Derald Glover said.
All 1,900 kids in the district southeast of Tulsa use a tablet or laptop. While Glover said the virtual days provide a good short-term remedy, it is still not a perfect solution.
“There is no substitute for being in the classroom with a great teacher,” he said.
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Louisville; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Beech)