Westerville News & Public Opinion

Out of snow days, district deploys 'Blizzard Bags'

The online assignments can be used to make up three school days lost to bad weather

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As another winter-storm system moved into the area earlier this week, again threatening school closures, Westerville City Schools kindergarten students became the first to use an online course-makeup system.

After extremely cold temperatures caused the district to cancel classes last week, most students enjoyed their fifth calamity day, the maximum allotted by the state.

But morning kindergarten students hit their sixth day, as their classes were canceled by an earlier two-hour delay.

The kindergarten students were asked to use "Blizzard Bags," online classes that districts are allowed to use to make up a maximum of three calamity days.

The district will use the online classes for all students to make up calamity days six, seven and eight, if needed, said Jennifer Knapp, district curriculum and instruction services director.

The district first developed the online classes for the 2011-2012 school year, when the state first offered the option to make up calamity days with electronic coursework, but this is the first time since that the district has exceeded the calamity days allotted by the state.

The district has online coursework available for each subject and each grade level, Knapp said, and teachers are encouraged to customize online lessons to their classes, so the courses reflect what is being taught in the classroom at the time classes are canceled.

"As we wrote the district lessons, it was much broader in scope to develop the bigger picture concepts," Knapp said.

"It's more relevant if the teacher posts it the morning of (class cancellations)."

Students are expected to do online coursework for any class, or subject area, they would have studied during the day.

"Every student would have to access the courses that they were to participate in that day," Knapp said. "(The lessons) should really reflect the time they would spend in class."

If the district reaches a sixth calamity day, the coursework would be posted on the district's website, and notices would be sent to students and parents alerting them to it, Knapp said.

Students would have 14 days to complete the work, and the work would be graded as a homework assignment, Knapp said.

Students who don't have access to computers at home would be given opportunities during school days to make up the work.

While the district gets its first experience with Blizzard Bags this year, it might be the last time they're needed as a makeup option.

After this school year, the state will require districts to offer a set number of instructional hours, rather than the current instructional days.

Students in grades 1-6 will be required to have 910 hours of instruction; students in grades 7-12 will be required to have 1,001 hours of instruction; and half-day kindergarten students will be required 455 hours of instruction.

In Westerville, that would mean full-day students would have to miss dozens of days before the district would need to make up time, Knapp said. There would be less of a buffer for half-day kindergarten students.

Nevertheless, developing and implementing online coursework has been a helpful practice, Knapp said.

"We know we need to be moving our students into an online environment, so giving them this opportunity was our opportunity to look at what (an) online lesson looks like," she said.

"It definitely helped to start the conversation: 'What would it mean for a kindergartener to do an online lesson?' "

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