Legislature education committee explores snow days vs. online learning days

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 5:43 PM CDT
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MANDAN, N.D. (KFYR) - Snow days are not what they used to be. Gone are the days of hot chocolate and sledding, and instead, many kids spend their snow days doing online classes. Now a North Dakota legislature interim committee is talking about whether virtual learning days should replace snow days.

Mornings at the Geiger house are busy. The Mandan family’s morning routine includes making lunches and ensuring everyone is ready for the day.

Mornings are even busier when the kids have an online learning day.

“I mean, virtual days are a little harder sometimes because if teachers aren’t prepared, and they like, put out a bunch of busy work, sometimes it’s not pertained to the unit,” said Tait Geiger, a sophomore at Mandan High School.

These are some of the concerns the education committee is hearing about virtual learning and snow days.

“We have had the Mandan school do a survey of their students. And 86 percent of the parents said they wanted a virtual school day, rather than called off school days,” said Rep. LaurieBeth Hager, D–Fargo.

Hager and the other committee members are gathering data about how effective virtual education is, how prepared teachers and students are, access to virtual schools in homes and the culture of snow days.

They are also discussing what virtual days mean pay-wise for hourly employees.

Commuting in winter weather is also a concern.

“When the forecast is iffy, and we want them to get the practice, it’s so nice that that’s an option. That it could be nuts tomorrow with a blizzard, and some kids are walking to school,” said Gayle Geiger.

The committee is also looking at laws other states have created to limit the number of virtual school days. A cap system is something that parents like Gayle like.

“We don’t want to get away from face-to-face, the impact, the gains you have from that,” said Gayle.

She says online learning has evolved since COVID, and she’s impressed with how the Mandan School District has navigated it.

For online learning days, she takes on the role of teacher, which can be tricky for the students and parents.

“My parents help me a lot, but like, don’t do it for me, obviously. I think if they don’t have a video with it, I could search it up on the web,” said Ellia Geiger, an 8th-grader.

Communication from the classroom to the students is also an issue a lot of kids worry about.

“Something like in math and you ask a question, but they don’t get back to you right away. And so then it’s a little tricky,” said Milly Geiger, a 5th-grader.

The Geigers say virtual learning has gotten easier, but they still prefer the days they can grab their backpacks and head out the door together.

Right now, school districts administer the snow days and decide on virtual days. There is no law to cap how many virtual learning days students can have.