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Virtual days allow learning at home when schools close because of winter weather in Estacada

The Estacada School District has launched a new initiative to ensure that student learning continues during inclement weather.

Through the virtual school days program, students will connect with their teachers about assignments to complete at home while school buildings are closed because of snow or other weather issues.

During virtual days, attendance will be taken through the student or parent communicating with their teacher. Messages will be sent to the parents at elementary schools and students at the middle and high schools. To be marked present for the day, families need to respond to the teacher's call or email by 8 p.m. and complete the assigned work.

"Our goal in piloting this it to close the learning gap that occurs when kids stay home for the day, or multiple days, provide a unique learning opportunity and potentially reduce the days the district will need to make up at the end of the year," said Estacada School District Superintendent Ryan Carpenter during a Facebook live event. "What we're trying to do during snow days is become a virtual school."

As per Oregon law, a requirement for a school day is two-way communication between teachers and students. Once the teacher communicates to families, and they respond, this requirement is fulfilled.

"If a teacher communicates and that child communicates back, they will be marked present," Carpenter said, noting that middle and high school students will need to do this for each of their classes.

The initiative is partially based on programs run by La Salle Catholic College Preparatory in Milwaukie and several school districts in Minnesota.

Though there were no virtual days during the week of Feb. 11, elementary school students were sent home with work packets the prior week, and middle and high school students were sent home with Chromebooks. For students who do not have internet access at home, the computers were pre-loaded with assignments.

"We don't want any kid to be left behind," said Estacada School District Communications Coordinator Maggie Kelly.

Carpenter described the virtual school days initiative as an "out of the box idea" that he is excited to try, though he noted it could be re-evaluated later based on feedback from families.

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