Schools will be limited to using just three virtual learning days each year under a new Indiana law.
School leaders were surprised by the change — lawmakers added the language during the final steps of the legislative process — and one of the state's largest school districts says some will be challenged by it more than others.
Current law does not restrict how many e-learning days schools are allowed to have each year, but if a student receives more than half of their instruction remotely, the school would receive less funding for that student.
The new law, House Enrolled Act 1093, says if schools need more than three virtual days in a single school year "because of extraordinary circumstances," they can apply for a waiver. But the sudden rule change from lawmakers has left many unanswered questions about how it will work.
Fort Wayne Community Schools spokesperson Krista Stockman said disruptive weather, like snow, means some schools will likely have to navigate the limit more carefully than others.
"It really hits the schools in the northern part of the state much more than the southern part of the state," she said.
The new law also includes requirements for what a virtual learning day looks like. It says schools must provide remote students with teacher-directed "synchronous" instruction for at least half of a virtual day, and that the State Board of Education will define what that requires compared to "asynchronous" learning.
Stockman said FWCS families have said they prefer self-paced work on days where kids don't come to school. She added that providing all students with synchronous learning takes more resources – like time to distribute Wi-Fi devices and the money to pay for them.
"When you go to a synchronous type of learning, you have to make sure that all of your students have internet access," Stockman said.
More information about how to work under the new law is coming soon. The Indiana Department of Education is building a virtual learning day certification process for schools, and plans to offer information sessions about the process next month.