In Westerly and Chariho districts, equity is seen as an issue with virtual snow days

In Westerly and Chariho districts, equity is seen as an issue with virtual snow days


WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — The Westerly and Chariho school committees are considering how they will comply with a new state law that allows students to learn at home when schools are closed because of inclement weather. Both districts declared four snow days last winter.

The legislation, which Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law in July, would end the practice of adding days to the school year to make up for those lost because of snowstorms or other emergencies. The new policy provides two options: A virtual education plan using computers or a packet of written material. The home learning plans, to be approved by individual school districts, must be presented to the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.

The changes will not be mandatory. School districts will still have the option of sticking with their current policies and continuing to declare snow days and make up for them at the end of the school year.

Megan Geoghegan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the department would issue its guidance on the new law by Dec. 1.

“Our policy will be mainly used to direct districts to make sure there’s equity,” she said. “After we issue our guidance in December, the districts will present their policies to the council.”

Equity is the primary concern in the Westerly and Chariho districts. Some students do not have internet access at home, and power failures, common during snowstorms, affect some communities but not others.

Westerly Assistant Superintendent Alicia Storey said, “We’ll be pulling together people to say, ‘All right, let’s look at what our options would be. What could we do and what are the obstacles that would come with this plan?’ One of them is the loss of electricity and the other one is access to the internet.”

At their Aug. 15 meeting, several members of the Chariho School Committee wondered how a virtual learning plan could be fairly applied.

“I don’t see how we can enforce a policy like this on a districtwide level,” Hopkinton member Catherine Giusti said. “My main issue is with equity. If we’re going to allow packet work, it couldn’t be computer-based, because not everybody has access to technology in the district. How are we going to guarantee that our special education students, our youngest students, even our typical learners are going to be getting the benefit of a full day of school?”

Sylvia Stanley, who chairs the School Committee, said she didn’t think a home learning plan would work in the Chariho district. “I don’t think it’s doable,” she said. “There’s no way special education kids are going to be able to do that...If the power goes out as it does on some streets and not on the next street over, some kids can do the work and some kids can’t. It’s not fair to expect them all to have their homework ready.”

Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci said he needed to know more about the proposal before making a recommendation to the committee.

“I look forward to the receipt of guidance from the R.I. Department of Education. I’ll also take a look at successful models from other districts. However, there’s a part of me that says, What’s wrong with playing in the snow on a snow day?”

Storey agreed that the occasional snow day is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There is some traditional memory there,” Storey said. “Some great memories are built on a snow day. I agree with Barry. What’s wrong with having a snow day?”


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