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FOREST CITY | Students in the Forest City School District will have the opportunity to attend school, even if they are not actually in their classrooms.

The Forest City Community School District Board of Directors approved two days of e-learning for the remainder of the 2018-19 school year and three days of e-learning for the 2019-20 school year. Approval was given at a special school board meeting held on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

According to a press release from the school district dated Jan. 21 announcing the trial day, “An e-learning day means students will complete class or grade-level activities/assignments at home, and this day will not be added as a make-up day at the end of the school year.”

The decision came after looking at survey data from the teachers, students and their parents along with their feedback on the first e-learning day which took place on Feb. 14.

In the five surveys, 91 percent of 173 parents, 100 percent of 81 teachers, 97 percent of 223 students in grades six through eight and 96 percent of 181 students in grades nine through twelve said they could support additional e-learning days.

Additionally, 87 percent of students in high school said their e-learning was an extension of their previous learning, with 92 percent saying the work was typical of a normal school day.

Of the students in middle school, 88 percent said they were able to complete the work assigned, with 98 percent saying the quality of work was typical of a normal school day.

Out of the middle and high school students surveyed, 96.5 percent said their teachers were accessible to answer questions.

One of the activities for elementary students was to fill out a Bingo card that had various activities on it for them to do.

Of 29 teachers, 14 reported they received 80 to 99 percent of the students’ Bingo cards, with six saying they received all Bingo cards from their students.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Technology Integration Director Mike Van Oort said. “We know we've got some things to work on, so we’re going to take those things and try to get a little bit better for each of the next two days.”

Van Oort said e-learning days offer the opportunity to maintain academic consistency and purpose of leaning. They also assist in end-of-the-school-year assessments, summer school, athletics and activities.

“With the way what’s happened this year, so far, the snow days, these two come into play big-time. We’ve got some gaps with loss of consistency with a couple times we’ve had two days in a row,” he said. “So with those e-learning days, it can change that as well. We’re getting backed up as far as thinking about summer school and our baseball and softball activities. Assessments and finals are part of that too in each of our buildings.”

So far, the district has had 10 snow days and must make up nine days, pushing the end of the school year to June 6, according to Superintendent Darwin Lehmann.

Lehmann said anything above 1,080 hours, which is the minimum, counts as school hours, and people have been taking out of context Director of the Iowa Department of Education Ryan Wise’s claims e-learning days don’t count despite schools being innovative to find ways to keep learning consistent through snow days.

Wise said in an email to Lehmann a district has local discretion outside the minimum days or hours requirement.

“If a school district meets the minimum requirement of 1,080 hours or 180 days (depending on which calendar system they’ve selected), there is nothing in Iowa code or rule that would prohibit the district from using e-learning days,” he said.

Van Oort said there is a two-day window for students to complete the e-learning if they are having trouble getting on a device, finding the time for it during the e-learning day or don’t have access to the Internet.

Board member Pat Hobbs said she hopes this is something that will be extended into the future.

“I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “I think the kids are going to get more out of this than they will going to school into the middle of June when it’s nice out and they want to be outside.”

School Board President Bruce Mielke said he was impressed with how the evaluation was carried out.

“I think we’ve done a good job of really following up,” Mielke said. “Certainly, I know it’s new, but I think we’ve done a good job of surveying parents and talking to kids. We know it’s new, so it’s just a new adventure.”

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