The Journal Address

Are e-learning days a realistic alternative to snow days?


Perry Township currently has a total of 16,608 students and 1,005 teachers, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Imagine being the one to ensure all of those students have transportation available, food on their trays at meal time and valuable instruction during the school day. Then, imagine being the supervisor of those 1,005 teachers. That means ensuring an inviting workplace, decent benefits and making sure that teachers meet state standards. The number 1,005 only includes teachers — not custodians, cafeteria staff or transportation employees. And, yes, don’t get us wrong, this person does have help from his support system at PTEC, but ultimately, it is he who must ensure everything falls into place.

Perry Township Superintendent Pat Mapes has quite a bit on his plate. With a total of 17 schools to oversee, Mapes is a busy man. Of course, there will always be those who oppose an idea or person, but all we’re saying is to cut him some slack.

With a make-up day coming up on Monday, The Journal deemed it best that we push for e-learning days. However, after meeting with Mapes, our opinion shifted.

On Thursday, Jan. 31, the Perry Township social media accounts received a ton of backlash when announcing that there would be a 2-hour delay rather than a cancellation. “If the state closed postal services, we don’t need school” and “Where is our school closure?” read a few replies to the Twitter and Facebook posts.

What people don’t consider, according to Mapes, are all of the factors that go into making a cancellation decision. Mapes goes out at 4 a.m. with the Transportation Director and Director of Facilities. Then, at 5 a.m., he joins a conference call with all Marion County Superintendents. He says that windchill and ice are the toughest factors they consider and that they have a benchmark number of negative 20 windchill.

While weather is an important component, Mapes says there are other factors when it comes to deciding whether to cancel. For example, when school is out, a third of his employees go without pay.

“The custodians don’t come to work. The cafeteria worker, the bus driver, the instructional assistant, they don’t,” Mapes said. “We’re not open. They don’t get a check for that day. And, (for) a lot of them, that’s big.”

Mapes also values instructional time, as many students don’t get it elsewhere. He embraces the importance of support, especially to students learning English for the first time and to students learning subjects like math, for which they may not receive valuable tutoring or help outside of the classroom. Perry Township teachers have been nationally recognized, proving the high level of instruction students would miss on cancelled days.

He also constantly considers that over 70 percent of the township receives free or reduced lunches, meals students may not get elsewhere.

These factors combined, he says, are why e-learning days, a day students would spend doing classwork on their devices, have been out of the picture for Perry Township.  But, it is important to know that Mapes is working with state legislators to try to get four waiver days, cancellations that would not have to be made up.

“Even if I kept (MLK day and President’s Day) as make up days and have those four waiver days, I’d have more flexibility than I’ve ever had,” Mapes said.

There’s a few things you should know about Mapes, though. He drives a big Tahoe, has a teenage daughter and carries hefty experience in education administration. He previously served as the superintendent for the Delaware Community School Corporation. That’s northeast of the city, so you can assume how much worse the weather gets up there.

In Delaware, Mapes had four townships in his district, three of which were rural.

“It doesn’t matter as if I was here or when I was superintendent up at Delta (in Delaware County), but everything’s relevant to where you live,” Mapes said. “Down here, because we’re more in a city environment, if we get three inches of snow, it doesn’t matter. There’s so much protection from the wind, so we don’t get a lot of drifting.”

His daughter plays club volleyball, which can often lead to a busy family schedule. So, Mapes says he understands that make-up days can sometimes become a burden, but they don’t have to interfere with important plans.

“Call in (the) absence excused so we know where you’re at, and we’re not going to punish people for that. Go do (what you had planned),” Mapes said. “You’ve got to have some common sense. I’m all about common sense.”

So, to Mapes and the rest of the administrators at PTEC, thank you. We agree with the decision making process and believe students should consider all factors before being quick to get mad.