JEREMY OLSON COLUMN: Clearing up some misinformation on e-learning days
E-learning is a concept that came up during the pandemic and has been met with questions and scrutiny. I wanted to answer these questions to the best of my ability and clear up some misinformation.
This was a challenging winter from a storm and school closure standpoint. As a result of the total number of days that were missed, Bemidji Area Schools implemented e-learning to help us manage our calendar and continue instruction when we could not get students safely to school.
E-learning is a concept that came up during the pandemic and has been met with questions and scrutiny. I wanted to answer these questions to the best of my ability and clear up some misinformation on e-learning days.
Are e-learning days a way to increase funding for schools? The answer is that e-learning days have really nothing to do with the budget. They are in place of the traditional snow days and do not affect the budget or finances unless we would drop below the minimum instructional days set by the state. State statute requires a minimum of 165 days of instruction, however, we don't want to give kids a minimum education.
Our calendar is set up for 172 instructional days and that is what we have based our contracts with teachers and other groups around. We do not get any more funding for going longer than 165 days. The reason for the 172 instructional days is because we believe our kids deserve more than a minimum education and that is why Bemidji is providing more instructional days than the state minimum.
Do we have built-in storm make-up days? Martin Luther King Jr. and President's Day are both built-in makeup days and have been for at least the last 20 years. Calendars used to include Easter Monday as a built-in storm day; however, this option was removed several years ago.
The issue has been that we usually don't get early storms that necessitate the use of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and usually only use President's Day due to the timing of the storms. This year the timing of the storm necessitated the use of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and oddly enough did not require the use of President's Day as the other storm days came after President's Day.
Why are we using e-learning days? E-learning days are used in place of storm days as it does provide better calendar flexibility. We use these e-learning days in the same fashion as storm days. We have chosen not to use these days "just in case" and use e-learning days with the same discretion and rigor as we would have otherwise used storm days.
What would have happened if we didn’t have e-learning days this year?
We were closed a total of five days this year. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was used as a storm make-up day leaving a total of four days to be made up. The board could do the following:
- Add four student days to the end of the calendar, causing the last day for students to be June 6.
- Add four staff days to the end of the calendar, causing the last staff day to be June 7.
- Approve a combination of options 1 and 2.
- In extreme circumstances, the board could forgive days.
If we had not used e-learning days, my recommendation to the school board would have been to add two student days, causing the last day of school to be on June 2. I would have also recommended adding two staff days causing the last staff day to be on June 7. I would have brought this recommendation forward to preserve as many instructional days as I could, while also trying not to interfere with summer family schedules.
I am hoping that this gives our community some perspective on our current e-learning process and the strategy that is being used thus far. If you have any questions or would like to discuss Bemidji Area Schools, please feel free to contact me. Go Jacks!
Jeremy Olson is the superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached at (218) 407-9645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.