Park Rapids Area Schools are having their first distance learning day on Thursday, Oct. 17.

A distance learning day, similar to an e-learning day, is an opportunity for students to work on class assignments from home, rather than coming into the school. The difference between them is that distance learning days are planned, whereas e-learning days happen when school is canceled unexpectedly, such as a snow day.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said the Minnesota Legislature, during one of its recent sessions, agreed to allow school districts to plan distance learning days and replace unplanned school closings with e-learning days, rather than adding extra school days at the end of the school year.

“Last winter, there were quite a few districts, if you recall seeing the scroll on the TV, that would say, ‘No school, e-learning day,’” said Bagstad.

Last year, the school board approved a calendar for the 2019-20 school year that includes two distance learning days and authorized the use of e-learning days as needed. The school then used a staff development day to learn about, plan and prepare for this year’s distance learning and e-learning days.

“I know that grade levels and departments are continuing to plan to make sure that everything is ready,” said Bagstad.

Regarding next week’s distance learning day, he said, “It coincides with the fall break. In the past we’ve had Thursday and Friday. This year, we’re doing the distance learning day and then taking Friday off.”

Another distance learning day is tentatively planned for Jan. 22, 2020 for the high school only, allowing the building to be used for a regional student activity.

“It’s a work-at-home time,” said Century Elementary Principal Joleen De La Hunt. “For our distance learning day, teachers are posting assignments online, that parents can access for things students can do. We are also providing paper copies of the work for families who may not have internet access.”

Assignments may be turned in up to three school days later, she said.

Bagstad noted that school staff will be available Thursday to help students with their work.

High School Principal Jeff Johnson called the distance learning day “a way of continuing to learn without having to be on premises.”

It’s a learning experience on more than one level, he said. “We’re figuring out where students are going to look for things, educating them on how much time it’s going to take them” to complete assignments.

Johnson argued that if school is canceled due to inclement weather, assigning e-learning days will benefit students more than adding replacement days at the end of the school year.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re better off getting something now from (students) than adding on a day. We seldom get much of anything at the end of the school year.”