A Hastings School District e-learning policy will launch for the 2019-20 school year, with plans in place for class lessons and homework to be done online on cancelled school days.

The policy details how the district will handle e-learning days — with goals and expectations set for students and teachers and how to accommodate students without access to technology or the internet. Its creation follows a particularly harsh winter weather season last school year which resulted in nine cancelled school days and led the district to add two school days.

“What is e-learning? It’s online instruction due to weather-related school closures,” said Jennifer Reichel, the district’s director of teaching and learning, at a school board work session last week.

Minnesota statute allows for up to five days of e-learning in a school year to count as “student-contact” days, Reichel said. The new policy details that most students will work through one of the district’s online platforms, with lessons and homework available in the morning by 10 a.m. and teachers available to communicate during the day.

If students don’t have access to technology, the district has about 100 mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to send with students and some laptops available too, Superintendent Tim Collins said in an email. The district is still determining how to allot those, Reichel said during the work session.

Students will be able to take home a paper version of lessons and homework in situations where the weather cancellation is set the day prior, she said.

The plan also provides flexible options for students on individual education plans.

Reichel said that the district understands that the policy will have to respond as problems arise or things go differently than they expect once a school day is cancelled.

“We’re going to go with the flow,” she said.

On days where e-learning instruction takes place, teachers will be available through Google Voice phone calls — which avoids having teachers give out their personal cellphones or home phone numbers, Reichel said.

The plan also provides the benefit of giving students experience in learning digitally too, something Reichel told board members would help them in future education.

“We want the students to be able to practice online learning,” she said.

Off day for behavior training mulled at elementary schools

The district is also considering a training day for a new approach to student discipline in elementary schools.

The training, Responsibility Centered Discipline, focuses on students taking responsibility for their actions and developing their own post-behavior plan to avoid it in the future. However, the training would require shifting either existing training days for teachers or cancelling a school day to make room for the training.

“We’re pretty excited to have some different training for our staff,” said Matt Esterby, principal of McAuliffe Elementary School, at the work session. “After a situation that has happened, right now, we have some sort of restitution, an apology and some type of [thing] lost … then when something else happens you extend that and extend that again ... we’re trying to come up with a way to eliminate that repeated cycle.”

The training costs $17,000 and Esterby made the case that it was worth it through a recent example of discipline he had handled using the method.

“It gives us the communication skills, it gives the responsibility back to the students,” he said.

The district is mulling cancelling an elementary school day and trading an existing literacy training day to make time for the behavior training.

Board member Lisa Hedin said she supported the training.

“I support taking the day off because I’ve heard [of issues] in teacher negotiations and I’ve been in the building … there’s no doubt in my mind we need to prioritize this time,” she said.

School board member Kelsey Waits raised concerns that the off day could create financial issues for families who may struggle to find child care, or where an older child may handle babysitting often.

“I just wonder about some of the lower-income families that may be hit hard by this,” she said. “[I’m] trying to make this more equitable.”

The training would potentially come on top of six other trainings already planned — most for a literacy training initiative in the district. The board will likely make a decision during its Aug. 21 meeting.

Reporter’s note: School board work sessions are strictly for discussion of various topics, with official decision unable to be made.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the cost and length of time for the district to conduct the training. It has been updated to accurately reflect the correct figures.