Freezing temperatures last week closed countless businesses and schools in northern Illinois. For some, snow days meant working remotely. Students are now returning to class after some school districts closed their doors for safety.
Tim Furnas is principal of a career tech and alternative high school called KEC. That's short for Kishwaukee Education Consortium. Select students from public schools around DeKalb County take classes here. Remote learning on snow days isn't a new idea after students started using Chromebooks in some classrooms. But it's new for KEC educators who began a remote learning pilot program this semester. It started soon before the first snow day of the semester. Furnas said this program makes the best of a bad situation.
"Nobody was expecting we were going to have, in two weeks time, five days out. So it got pressed into play pretty quick," said Furnas.
The first week back in school has some educators eyeing how the weather will affect the rest of this academic year.
"So if we could do it this way, where you could continue on with the class on these emergency days -- once again this is an extreme example, this many days out in a row -- but if it was even two or three days, something like that and you had this and you were still able to get things accomplished during those days, trying to put them on the end of the year, it's not really all that effective," he said.
Remote learning looks different depending on the teacher. Shaala Sherman teaches English, Government, and Social Studies at KEC. Her students took home folders full of pre-made emergency assignments like writing prompts. Sherman said not everyone has internet access so paper assignments work well.
"So it doesn't really make too big of a difference in terms of how I teach my classes or what I'm teaching. It doesn't make it easier, it doesn't make it harder, it just makes it better at the end of the year. And that's the end goal, I think," she said.
Amber Holliday teaches English at KEC. She ran a Google classroom with online research assignments. Holliday says students are still getting used to the pilot program. The first few days back in class after the snow-related break means a lot of catching up.
"We're going to figure out the chaos and see where they're at with their assignments," she said.
One student at KEC said she was grateful for the busy work as cabin fever set in. She estimated she had about two to three hours of homework per snow day.
The cold forced some parents who work outside the home to change their routine. Courtney Gallaher is a professor at Northern Illinois University. She and her husband raise two young kids. She said their week was complicated.
"You put in a full day of parenting your kids and then once they're asleep I try to put in a full day of work. And I can never put in a full day of work, but it just makes everything feel very frantic," she said.
Offers for last-minute child care popped up on social media. She said her son needs specialized care so they couldn't fully depend on care from emergency sitters.
Mary Moses is also a DeKalb parent. She said she'd like to have had extra warning before schools were closed. She said she had only a short time to ask for permission to work from home, but liked that she could set an example for her child.
"And I think that's a good example to show that you can still work and do what you're supposed to do even if you can't get to school," said Moses.
She said snow days aren't ideal but she thinks those calls were important for safety.
"I think that it is an inconvenience to a lot of parents but I feel like that's a really loud voice and maybe there's the smaller one that [says] it's okay and it's not as big of a deal. There's options other than just taking off work," she said.
Districts planning to start remote learning days might see a halt come in the near future. State lawmakers are considering a measure that would limit out-of-classroom learning days. The proposal says students need to be in a school for five hours in one day to officially count.