The 2000 Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon movie comedy, “Snow Day” depicts a group of Syracuse, N.Y., elementary students who attempt to turn their first snow day into two snow days by doing everything in their power to stop their nemesis — the evil snowplow driver — from clearing the streets. In many ways, the movie reflects a cultural artifact shared by generations of school children living in American snow-zone states.

For Camden area students, Dec. 1 may signal the end of the snow day as they know it. MSAD28/Five Town CSD Superintendent Maria Libby said the district will be the first in Maine to pilot Remote School Days “to reduce the impact and disruption to the school calendar and programs due to inclement weather…This year we will be implementing two Remote School Days.”

While this is the first pilot program in Maine which will use communications and internet-based technologies to remotely complete classroom work during snow days, similar programs have been implemented in other areas of the country, Libby explained. School districts in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other northern states began implementing remote-learning technologies before 2014 to cut back on the number of instructional days lost to inclement weather closings.

“We did some research on remote-learning before developing our pilot project,” Libby said. “The Illinois Department of Education was a great resource for us. All kinds of people in this country work remotely, so why not students?”

The district, as have other school districts in Maine, made significant financial investments to introduce one-to-one technologies to provide all students with access to the internet and other digitally-based educational resources, Libby said. Using technology to institute remote-learning days as an alternative to snow days is a logical next step in the evolution of technology-driven education.

“Part of me really feels that if we are successful our other schools may be interested in doing it more than two days as well,” Libby said. “Ideally, it may be something we use for all of the snow days we have, or most of them. I do expect, on occasion, we are going to get very big storms where there are power outages and then it will not be a viable option.”

The first Remote School Day will begin on the first school closing due to winter weather after Dec. 1, Libby said. Delayed openings will continue as before. Remote School Days will be announced on the district's automated calling system. It will not be announced by local radio and television stations.

At the end of September, packets were sent to parents announcing Remote School Days and providing basic information about the grade-appropriate instructional assignments students will be provided; and, it included a FAQ section to answer specific general questions. For example, if a student does not complete the instructional assignment, the student will be listed as absent for the day and, will then have to submit the work as outlined in the district's absentee policies. A second packet explaining Remote School Days will be sent to parents within the next few weeks, Libby said.

“I've gotten positive feedback from a number of parents, who thought that it is a good plan,” Libby said. “I'm sure there will be some parents for whom it causes some logistical challenges. We are trying to anticipate those and provide solutions. One of the other things we are trying to do is to provide internet service for all of our families who don't have it.”

This week, the district received its first order of Kajeet SmartSpot devices, which provide a “filtered (Wi-Fi) hotspot device,” Libby said. “If a family lives in an area where they get cellular reception, it should work there. The devices are filtered for education so students won't be able to watch Hulu or Netflix on it, but they should be able to have access to the internet and to do their work.”

Libby said the district is gathering information to identify any students in the district whose homes do not have internet access. Earlier in the year, high school students completed a paper survey which asked whether or not they had internet access at home. Some of the students did not respond to the survey. As a follow-up, the district is contacting the students who did not return surveys to determine whether or not they have internet access at home.

Kajeet units are being tested by the district's technology department, Libby said. Prior to Dec. 1, the district plans to teach students who have been identified as not having internet access at home how to use the Kajeet SmartSpot units.

K-4 students will not be using the internet to complete assignments because of their age, Libby said. Instead K-4 students will receive “Genius Bags.” Each bag will include a reading component—books or articles for reading on student-chosen topics based on independent reading levels; writing activities, also student choice/level, with pencils provided, to write about the books or articles they read; math activities will utilize a deck of cards, such as Fact Triangles; and a project component, in which students create an art piece, song, movement, a creative component, or Spanish vocabulary.

“Special education teachers are trying to develop plans for students with significant needs,” Libby said. “We are asking parents to be patient. We know there will be inevitable kinks, even though we tried our best to figure out all aspects of the pilot project.”

Remote School Days will operate from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m., for students, teachers, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, librarians and other support staff. In the event of power outages, students, 7-12, are required to contact their teachers once power is restored. Libby said that assigned work will be due at a reasonable time, based on school policies. The district is also attempting to identify parents who prohibit their children from using the internet or communication technologies.

Libby was told that one other school district superintendent in the area is monitoring the Remote School Days pilot project to see if it succeeds. At some point after the two-day pilot project ends, Libby will provide the school board with a detailed analysis of each component of the project.

If it is successful, Libby plans to use the project in connection with the new middle school construction project to make sure that students finish classes two weeks earlier than a normal year to accommodate the contractors' completion schedule.