Virtual snow days on hold after state denies recommendation

Virtual snow days on hold after state denies recommendation

NORTH SMITHFIELD – School administrators are scrapping a plan to pilot virtual snow days – at least for the time being – after the Rhode Island Department of Education said it would not recommend the plan for approval by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.

The plan, which would allow the district to offer online instruction in place of a traditional school day up to three days during the school year, was among the first proposed in the state after the General Assembly passed a law allowing the measure last year.

After receiving notification of the state’s decision in an Aug. 31 letter from Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, school administrators initially told The Valley Breeze they planned to provide additional information and resubmit their application. However, after speaking with RIDE officials, administrators said they had instead decided to formally rescind their application and will not be submitting another proposal at this time.

“It really came down to, based on written and verbal feedback from the Department of Education, we feel that RIDE is not as of yet committed to the concept of virtual instruction,” said Claire Arnold, assistant superintendent for the district. “We felt that if they’re not ready to move forward, without clear guidance, then we’re not ready to move forward either.”

The letter, shared with The Valley Breeze, included several points of concern with the proposed virtual instruction plan, which relies on an online platform already utilized by North Smithfield teachers for homework and classroom assignments. Those concerns include how the plan will provide support for English language learners, how students will be assessed and how younger students will adapt to the changes.

“The concern is that the youngest and most vulnerable learners will not be adequately supported to learn virtually,” wrote Wagner.

However, according to Supt. Michael St. Jean, the department’s full feedback also included several mistakes and factual errors, including referring to the district as “North Kingstown” on several occasions. St. Jean said he and Arnold did not feel the state was supportive of virtual instruction at this time, leading to the decision to place the proposal on hold.

“We really think that if RIDE wants to go forward with this, they need to issue a new set of guidelines and be much more clear in their definitions of what a virtual instruction day looks like,” he said.

While the district still hopes to pilot virtual snow days at some point in the future, St. Jean said there are no plans to resubmit an application at this time.

“We hope in the future we’ll have permission to do something along these lines,” he said.