School districts would have the opportunity to make up lost school days through the use of at-home learning plans under a new law sponsored by Sen. Roger A. Picard and Rep. Robert D. Phillips.

The enabling legislation (2017-S 01012017-H 6311) which passed the Assembly June 28 and was signed into law by the governor yesterday, requires the Department of Education to create a policy by Dec. 1 that would allow school districts, if they so choose, to submit detailed plans to provide students with at-home lesson plans that can be used to replace a school day missed due to inclement weather or another emergency. Each school district’s plan will require the approval of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education in order to count as a school day.

Under such a plan, for example, teachers could prepare a lesson that students could complete on their own at home. The lesson could involve lessons accessed over the Internet, or a packet the student takes home, and it could include related assignments. Those lessons could be completed on a day when there is no school, perhaps over February or April vacation, and would count as one day of school. Each district’s participation is completely voluntary, under the new law.

Senator Picard, who also introduced the bill last year, said he conceived of the legislation because of the many missed school days during the 2014-2015 school year, when a blizzard and numerous other snowstorms forced schools across the state to close for many days. Some Rhode Island school districts sought approval from the Department of Education to shorten their school year by a day, because the number of days their students missed was so great.

“Being able to make up a day with an at-home lesson plan would give schools another option beyond adding days to the end of the year in June or eliminating some or all of one of the break weeks. In a year when the missed days of school are really significant, this would help schools meet their requirement of providing 180 days of instruction,” said Senator Picard (D-Dist. 20, Woonsocket, Cumberland).

Said Representative Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland), “This could be especially useful in special situations when only one school in a district has to close for a day, like when there’s a roof problem or broken boiler. An option like this would be a way to keep that school on the same schedule as the rest of the district.”

New Hampshire has already adopted such a policy, and some of the state’s districts have begun using it. There, the program is referred to as the “blizzard bag” program, since students can participate either online or with a packet or bag of work, and 80 percent of the students in the district must participate in order for the district to be credited for the day.

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