Program would allow District 94 to swap emergency days for e-learning days

After several years of preparation, including infrastructure improvements and teacher training, Community High School District 94 began the 2015-16 school year by issuing a Chromebook to every student at West Chicago Community High School.

The goal of an initiative such as this is to create more engaging learning opportunities for our students and to provide 24/7 access to materials, assignments and resources to extend learning opportunities beyond the school day.

Last year, I approached State Rep. Mike Fortner and together we wrote legislation proposing e-learning days. Under the proposal, school districts with a technology infrastructure in place would be able to replace a snow day or other emergency day with an e-learning day.

The legislation has now been approved, and the Illinois State Board of Education has been instructed to select three school districts to participate in a three-year E-Learning Days Pilot Program.

The expectation of enhanced use of technology serves to build the capacity of all stakeholders involved in an e-learning experience. The expanded use of technology resources provides opportunities for our staff and students to explore avenues in education that have previously not been available to them in the past.

In essence this is a pioneering experience for our students and staff, allowing them the flexibility to be the architects of their own teaching and learning experiences.

The use of e-learning days is designed to avoid interruptions in instruction that occur when school cannot be held due to severe weather conditions. E-learning days also may be used when a school must be closed due to "an act or acts of God, or was occasioned by conditions beyond the control of the school district which posed a hazardous threat to the health and safety of pupils."

School districts participating in the program are not required to use e-learning days, nor do they have to exhaust all of their emergency days before using an e-learning day. Any day approved as an e-learning day may be counted as a day of attendance and would not need to be "made up" at the end of the school year.

A school district wishing to participate in the E-Learning Days Pilot Program must ensure that each of its students "can access the e-learning program away from the school facility through the Internet, electronic text messaging or emails, telephones, webinars or other similar electronic communication devices that allow for interaction between students and the provision of instruction."

Instruction can take the form of prerecorded lectures, video recordings, work sheets or reading materials, and must be provided for a minimum of five clock hours a day.

Each student's participation must be actively monitored in order to authenticate his or her identity and verify that the student is actively participating in the instruction and completing work.

Of course, as an author of the legislation, I am most interested in our school district being chosen as one of the pilot school districts. We are currently in the process of completing the E-Learning Days Pilot Program application, which is due Thursday, Oct. 15.

Doug Domeracki is superintendent of Community High School District 94 in West Chicago. His column runs monthly in Neighbor during the school year.