Nevada bill would allow school districts to develop ‘digital days’ plan to replace snow days
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Teachers on the Assembly Education Committee were the biggest skeptics of a bill that would allow school districts to use so-called “digital days” when weather and other emergencies force school closures.
Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, brought the bill at the request of the Washoe County School District where officials used digital days instead of declaring snow days when schools in Incline Village and elsewhere were forced to close due to winter weather earlier this year. That was until the state Department of Education advised the district that the policy was against state law.
As practiced in the Washoe district, digital days counted as days of instruction toward the 180-day school year. Traditionally schools would call a snow day, which would not count as a day of instruction, forcing makeup days at the end of the school year.
The digital day policy presumes that students are actually doing school work electronically or by some other means even though the student isn’t in school.
But Assemblywomen Britney Miller and Selena Torres, both Las Vegas Democrats and school teachers, questioned whether the bill would work in practice.
Miller said the bill’s requirement that the work sent home with students provide substantive learning is a problem because, if she made a lesson plan for a snow day, that would essentially be busy work.
“I don’t believe it would be substantive,” she said.
Miller said if there is a weather event or some other emergency that closes a school day, “whatever the reason to close schools, they make it up at the end of the year.”
Tolles said those end-of-year days run afoul of summer plans, graduation dates and other issues, and that some students simply choose not to attend them.
She also pointed out this is “enabling language” and doesn’t require districts to set up a plan providing non-traditional instruction days.
Torres questioned the requirement that the work done on non-traditional instruction days be graded by a teacher saying not all instruction is graded. She said a lot of instruction comes during classroom discussions.
Tolles clarified that the provision was put in “because there has to be some sort of accountability to make sure they did that work, that they just didn’t go home and play all day.”
Torres said when she has a weekly plan, if there is a non-traditional instruction day, it just moves that plan back a day so anything she could give students for that day out of school would end up being unrelated to the weekly plan. She also said it would be extremely difficult to ensure each pupil received a minimum number of minutes of education during that day.
Tolles said since AB314 is “enabling” a district could simply decide that it’s not feasible to apply for approval of a plan but that the bill allows districts to apply if they want permission to use digital days. The bill also requires digital days meet needs of pupils with disabilities and that each pupil has access to adequate technology to participate.
Bailey Bortolin of Washoe Legal Services said that group opposes the bill because it could end up being an invasion of privacy to low income students who may be living in weekly motels and don’t have access to electronics to do the work. And some of their parents, she said, would not be able to take a day off to ensure their children actually do the work assigned.
Tolles said the bill authorizes a school district to develop a plan that would replace the three “contingent” school days districts now plan so they can cover such problems during the school year with three digital days. She said approval would be completely up to the state superintendent of education but digital days would be counted as part of the regular school year.
The committee took no action on AB314. Tolles said she is willing to work with the other members and stakeholders to address their concerns.