Goodbye, snow days: Students study from home

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- She's no Grinch about it, but Lynn Grewing is the principal who stole snow days.

The early arrival of wintry weather in the Midwest this week gave Grewing an opening to test out a virtual class day at St. Cloud Cathedral high school in central Minnesota, having students whip out laptops or iPads and work from home. After a successful test run, Grewing declared Tuesday that students' cherished snow days are a thing of the past - at least at Cathedral.

"This is what we will be doing every single snow day going forward," she said. "I'll be honest. There has been some grumbling."

Private schools like Cathedral - and, increasingly, some public school districts - across the nation are starting to use the flexibility technology provides to work around weather, meeting school mandates without make-up days.

Last winter's brutal cold and snow canceled five days of class at Grewing's school, leading to school days during Easter Break and pushing the year a few days into summer. The polar vortex got Grewing thinking about how to bring another Minnesota private school's successful virtual class setup to Cathedral.

A test run planned for later this month was pushed up to Monday morning, when the threat of record snows closed schools in the St. Cloud area, about 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Grewing ensured teachers had their assignments and lesson plans posted on the school's online portal by 10 a.m. for their seventh- through 12th-graders.

Cathedral senior Tommy Auger said doing classwork on his school MacBook Air from home didn't feel much different than a day in class. His math teacher even put up videos to walk students through solving problems.

Once they got over the initial disappointment of missing out on a free day, Auger said he and his classmates agreed - they'd prefer to skip out on a day of sledding rather than make-up days in the summer.

"It's hard to think ahead, but it's definitely better," he said.

It's an easier choice for smaller private schools like Cathedral, which has provided all its students with high-end laptops. But what about public school students who don't have that equipment, or don't have Internet access at home?

A panel of Minnesota's Department of Education has been wrestling with that question and with how to effectively bring virtual classes to public schools. Department spokesman Josh Collins said the state hasn't received much interest from school districts.

Iowa public schools found a work-around for Minnesota's concerns. Students without computer or Internet access get sent home with "blizzard bags" of homework. More than half of the state's 1,000 school districts have submitted plans to the state for hosting virtual makeup days, Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said.

More than 2,000 public high school students outside of New York City logged into their MacBook Airs from home as a storm bore down on the East Coast in February. Their superintendent, Erik Gundersen from Pascack Valley Regional High School District, is hoping lawmakers retool state law so those virtual class days count toward the state's 180-day mandate.

"It's not right for every day," Gundersen said. "From time to time, when school needs to be closed, it's a great way to continue the learning."

11 PHOTOS
Amazing snow creations
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Goodbye, snow days: Students study from home
COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph taken by AP Images for Breckenridge Chamber Resort, the crowd surrounds Team Canada / Quebec's Great Expectations snow sculpture at the Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships, on Saturday, Jan., 28, 2012 in Breckenridge Colo., As hundreds of people view the 15 sculptures that started with a 10 foot by 10 foot by 12 foot high solid block of snow and will have a total of 65 hours to finish their sculpture creation at the 22 annual competition. The sculptures will remain on display at the open air exhibit through Feb. 5, at the Riverwalk Center downtown Breckenridge. (Nathan Bilow /AP Images for Breckenridge Chamber Resort)
Freddie Novosel Jr., left, with his son, Freddie Novosel III, 5, pose for a photo with a snow creation the elder Novosel made over the weekend with snow left after a recent major snowstorm, seem Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008, in Collinsville, Ill. (AP Photo/Belleville News Democrat, Tim Vizer)
A woman takes a photo in front of the "Chinese Opera" snow sculpture at Grant Park in Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. Snow Days Chicago sculpting competition, featuring more than 25 snow creations, takes place in Grant Park. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
A man takes a photo in front of "SnOpra" snow sculpture at Grant Park in Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. Snow Days Chicago sculpting competition, featuring more than 25 snow creations, takes place in Grant Park. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR GOBRECK - A member of Team Lithuania finishes his snow sculpture on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, at the 24th annual Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships. The event creates a temporary outdoor art gallery in downtown Breckenridge, Colo. Sculptures remain on display through Feb. 2, 2014. The winner of the competition was Team Breckenridge, with Team Germany placing second and Team Wisconsin in third place. (Nathan Bilow/AP Images for GoBreck)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, tourists take pictures while visiting the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China. The annual festival began on Jan. 5, and will continue for over one month. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 photo, tourists take pictures at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China. The Annual festival began on Jan. 5, and will continue for over one month. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
IN THIS IMAGE DISTRIBUTED BY AP IMAGES FOR GOBRECK - Local Breckenridge team caption, Keith Martin holds a tool that he carves his snow sculpture "Winter Fun", Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, as artists work through the night at the 24th annual Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships. The event creates a temporary outdoor art gallery in downtown Breckenridge, Colo. Sculptures remain on display through Feb. 2, 2014. (Nathan Bilow /AP Images for GoBreck)
IN THIS IMAGE DISTRIBUTED BY AP IMAGES FOR GOBRECK - Team members from Team USA / Wisconsin work through the night, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, at the 24th annual Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships. The event creates a temporary outdoor art gallery in downtown Breckenridge, Colo. Sculptures remain on display through Feb. 2, 2014. (Nathan Bilow /AP Images for GoBreck)
BRECKENRIDGE, CO - JANUARY 31: Carl Schlichting places a tiny carved tree in his team's creation at the 13th annual International Snow Sculpture Championship January 31, 2003 in Breckenridge, Colo. The competition attracts teams from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Italy and the Netherlands to carve blocks of snow 10 feet square and 12 feet tall. The contest ends Saturday. (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)
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