Schools in Camden and Rockport plan to test a pilot program this winter that could eventually erase the need for added class time due to snow days.

The plan, which has already been instituted in other states and at one Portland school, is for students to complete class assignments from home on days when inclement weather forces schools to close. The two districts that oversee Camden and Rockport schools — Maine School Administrative District (MSAD) 28 and the Five Town Consolidated School District (CSD) — will test a two-day version of the program after December.

Assistant Superintendent Debra McIntyre of MSAD 28 and the Five Town CSD said the system “faced a significant disruption” to the academic calendar last year as a result of snow days. “We are hoping to mitigate the disruptions through this pilot process,” she said.

MSAD 28 oversees Camden-Rockport Middle School (CRMS) and Camden-Rockport Elementary School (CRES), while Camden Hills Regional High School (CHRHS) is part of the Five Town CSD.

McIntyre said a team of kindergarten through grade 12 teachers met over the summer in a planning process that included review of materials from school districts in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois. The result was a strategy for a two-day pilot program that will take place on a pair of snow days after December. Different grade tiers will have separate assignments and participation levels.

Grades seven to 12 already use computer learning management systems (LMS) and students will find their remote lessons posted online by 10 a.m. Teachers will be available to answer questions through email and their class LMS, where they will also monitor participation and other classroom functions.

Students in kindergarten through fourth grade will be issued “Genius Bags” with home learning materials, while grades five to six will have “stand-alone projects” to complete, McIntyre said.

The planners anticipated a portion of students may not have internet service at home. McIntyre said they will be issued a “SmartSpot” device developed by Kajeet, Inc., which the company’s website describes as a “filtered Wi-Fi hotspot” providing remote internet access through national wireless networks.

In a September letter to parents, Superintendent Maria Libby explained families will be informed of the two remote school days through an existing message system using phone, text and email. They will not be announced through local media, as is often the case with snow days, until those outlets develop a method to designate remote days in place of cancellations.

“We plan to implement Remote School Days during what would be the first two snow days after December 1, unless there is a blizzard or very heavy snow where we anticipate losing power,” Libby said, acknowledging there may be points “where we stumble” but staff members will adjust. “Very few innovative ideas are like well-oiled machines when they are first introduced, but we wouldn’t have progress without the necessary messiness inherent in trying something new.”

Libby said they expect full student participation, otherwise “we will need to go back to extending the school year, extending days, or attending school on Saturdays.” She added that normal snow day procedures will resume for the remainder of the school year following the pilot. “If it works well, we hope to continue using it in the future as a strategy to reduce snow days,” she said.

All nine of the MSAD 28 board members also serve on the 13-member Five Town CSD board. Both boards serve Camden and Rockport, while the Five Town board also represents Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville.

Marcia Dietrich, who serves on both school boards, said the pilot program received unanimous support from the two bodies. “These [remote school] days will present opportunities for our students to take responsibility for their learning and foster independence,” she said, adding that the districts aim to attain greater control over their calendars. “Hopefully we can avoid the need to make up for snow days by extending the school day or attending on Saturdays.”

Michelle Fong, who is also on both boards, said that before members approved the program they discussed issues ranging from computer and internet access to power outages. She thinks the replacement of snow days with remote days would remove “scheduling issues for families and especially high school students who work.”

Fong said the results of the pilot will be reviewed at future board meetings. “Another discussion and vote will be needed for this to become a permanent change,” she said.

Matt Dailey said he voted to approve the program twice as a member of both school boards.

“I support the idea of students being able to complete the equivalent of a day of in-class work at home during days where the weather makes it necessary to cancel school,” Dailey said. “I think that it benefits students by providing a good way to get in the state-mandated number of school days, as well as smoothing out the instructional disruption that can happen when snow days get clustered together.”

He noted that during the last school year students at every level experienced one-hour extensions of the school day over two weeks to compensate for weather closures.

“As a parent of two high school students at the time, I would have preferred to have had two snow days made into the equivalent of two schools days and been spared the impact on our daily schedule for those 10 days,” he said.

Dailey said the pilot program has the added advantage of allowing kids to continue learning without missing the joys of a snowy day away from the classroom.

“Even on the snow days where the kids will be asked to do school work, there will still be time for sleeping in and time for snowman making, hot chocolate drinking, sledding and whatever else is part of the traditional snow day,” he said.