BLOOMINGTON — School districts in Illinois are trying to eliminate snow days by implementing digital days in their place, but the Illinois General Assembly might walk back the flexibility that makes that possible.
A law that went into effect in time for the 2018-19 school year removed the requirement of a minimum number of hours that constitute an instructional school day, giving districts the opportunity to try digital days, work-based learning and other nontraditional means of education.
However, at least two bills have been proposed that would reinstate previous requirements for an instructional day, including at least five clock hours under direct supervision of teachers or other school personnel.
“There is concern that this freedom might result in some bad actors, some districts could maybe go too far,” said Mark Jontry, regional superintendent of education for McLean, DeWitt, Logan and Livingston counties. “I would hate to see that flexibility go away.”
Starting this semester, Tri-Valley School District in Downs is using that flexibility to implement digital days so education doesn’t have to stop for inclement weather.
“We saw it as an opportunity to move forward and be innovative, and so we moved in that direction and our teacher association agreed,” said David Mouser, superintendent of Tri-Valley. “From our perspective locally, though we are aware of what may be happening statewide and what kinds of bills may be introduced to back some of this up, we just felt like this was the right thing to do.”
Barry Reilly, superintendent of Bloomington District 87, said similar bills might be proposed in an effort to protect teaching jobs.
“I think the fear is that you’ll have districts that take advantage of that attendance issue to have kids there less in order to try to save money, and money meaning jobs,” he said.
In McLean County Unit 5, the school board and administrators have considered trying to implement digital days. However, with the legislation pending, they’re focused on passing a calendar without digital days in mind.
“We’re not going to go forward if there’s legislation that is going to prohibit it in the next year,” said Superintendent Mark Daniel.
For this semester, Heyworth Community Unit School District has implemented a pilot program to see how well digital days work for the district. Superintendent Lisa Taylor said eliminating them as a possibility would be “a disservice to our students.”
She and Mouser both said they will adjust for the new legislation if it comes, but for now, digital days will utilized as they see necessary.
“This is what Tri-Valley is going to do this year,” Mouser said. “If legislation comes back and it’s different for next year, we’ll have to revisit it. Like any innovative plan, we reserve the right to make changes.”