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10-24-14 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Legislature Drifts Toward Allowing Virtual Learning When Snow Shuts Schools…Pre-planned online classes taken from home could count toward current mandate of 180 days in classroom


John Mooney | October 24, 2014


When a Bergen County high school district tried to replace a snow day with a day of online learning last winter, the Christie administration rejected a request to have it count as an official school day, saying state law simply didn’t allow for it.

With winter at our doorstep, a Bergen County state senator last week filed a legislative bill that would change that law.

Related Links


State: Flurry of Activity Doesn’t Count on School Calendar

Bergen County School District Puts Virtual Spin on Snow Days

The proposal by state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) would effectively set up a mechanism for school districts to apply for permission to use online classes as a fill-in in the case of weather emergencies, which lately have been pressing on school calendars.

Cardinale said the bill is in response to what happened last February in the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, which had intricately planned out a “virtual day” of classes for Feb. 13 in the face of a forecasted snowstorm.

Every teacher led classes from home, as the roughly 2,000 students in the district’s two high schools -- each already provided with laptops -- logged in through the schools’ networks and took dozens of classes through video-conferencing or any variety of platforms available online.

The virtual learning day drew widespread media attention, and officials in other school districts promptly asked Pascack Valley for helping in developing similar programs.

However, despite some words of encouragement, the state Department of Education ultimately rejected the day as counting toward the state-mandated 180 school days, saying it ran counter to the law that explicitly required students be in the school building. The district ended up making up the snow day by taking a day away from spring vacation.

Cardinale yesterday said times had changed from when the 180-day rule was written.

He said saw this firsthand when he visited one of the district’s high schools and saw students taking classes online with teachers and students inside China.

“If we can do this long-range (to China), it can’t be any harder to do it short-range,” Cardinale said. “The fact is, the technology exists in many schools to be able to do this.”

The bill would specifically require the state Department of Education to set up a review process so schools could apply after the fact for such “virtual” days to count as official school days. The process would lay out criteria for approval, such as certain standards that would have to be met for instruction and the rigor of the school work.

The bill also would first require a district to have used up its allotted snow days before applying for permission to have the online learning day.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. James Beach (D-Camden), was referred to the Senate’s education committee.

The superintendent of Pascack Valley Regional was elated that the Legislature was taking up the issue, saying he had heard that there is interest on the Assembly side, as well.

“This is something we had talked about with the department,” said Superintendent Erik Gundersen. “There should be a mechanism in place for schools. It’s nice to see someone is moving forward on this.”

Gundersen said the only thing he questions is requiring schools to first use up their snow days. With the extent of planning involved, Gundersen said, the state should allow districts to have the option either way.

“I’d like to be able to be able to use it for the first day (of snow),” he said.

The legislative process is not always a speedy one, and Cardinale was making no promise of quick passage before this winter. He said he has the support of the state school boards association, but had yet to speak with representatives of the Christie administration or state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the Senate education chairman.

Gundersen said his schools are not counting on the law being changes in time for this winter. Pascack Valley has three snow days built into its school calendar; some school districts have scheduled as many as five snow days, just in case.

But the superintendent said even if the bill doesn’t pass for this winter, he planned to continue testing the idea during this school year, maybe with selected students or classes.

“You don’t get better at it doing it only periodically or haphazardly,” he said. ”We’ll keep doing this.”


The Record - Common Core, PARCC conference available online… Panelists included N.J. School Boards Association (NJSBA) Educator-in-Residence Vincent De Lucia, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) representative Amy Fratz, and more. (Governor Thomas Kean led off the conference with a 30 minute speech on the need for standards in education; Commissioner David Hespe delivered closing remarks.)

October 24, 2014    Last updated: Friday, October 24, 2014, 12:31 AM

By Maggie Katz


Clifton Journal

The New Jersey School Choice and Education Reform Alliance (NJSCERA) held a Common Core standards conference streamed live on YouTube on Tuesday morning. That conference is available for viewing at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKPYh5P2HDY.


The conference, which lasted more than three hours, was held at Middlesex County College starting at 8:45 a.m. and the recording was made available online immediately after its conclusion.

Topics included implementation challenges and politics surrounding the new standards. The conference also addressed the standardized PARCC exam, opting out, and questions from the audience.

Panelists included N.J. School Boards Association (NJSBA) Educator-in-Residence Vincent De Lucia, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) representative Amy Fratz, and more.

Email: katz@northjersey.com


Education Week Announces Free Webinar 10-29-14:  Mastering the Most Challenging Standards With Rigorous Instruction

Based on independent research and results from over 750,000 students, the most challenging reading standards for students have been identified. This webinar will discuss the practical instructional ideas to help teachers and administrators conquer the rigor needed to master these standards. The discussion will specifically relate to determining central ideas or themes and summarizing details, analyzing text structure, integrating and evaluating content in diverse media and formats, and analyzing similar topics and themes across texts. Participants will pinpoint which standards are the most challenging, where students struggle the most, and be able to better focus their instructional time to master these standards.


Maureen McLaughlin, Ed.D., professor and chair of the Reading Department, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania and president, the International Reading Association (IRA)

Brenda J. Overturf, Ed.D., chair of the IRA Common Core Standards Committee (2012-2015) and a national literacy consultant

This webinar will be moderated by Adam Berkin, vice president, product development, Curriculum Associates

Register now for this free live webinar.


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