Last Friday, when accidents caused by a winter storm shut down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a teacher at Princeton's Hun School who was stuck for hours in the traffic mess turned to her tablet.

Using video chat, Lynn McNulty taught her Advanced Placement European history class from the front seat of her stranded car.

A day earlier, students at Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills high schools in Bergen County who couldn't get to class because of snow spent the day in virtual classrooms. The school issues laptops to all its students. Instead of a snow day - and possibly losing a day of summer vacation - students studied French and physics through social networking sites, discussion boards and video chats.

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As the snow days pile up, New Jersey schools are looking for ways to meet the requirement of a 180-day school year and also to keep students from falling behind.

The state Department of Education is expected to decide this week whether Pascack Valley's virtual school day will count as a real day on the school calendar.

It shouldn't be surprising that reality is getting ahead of regulations. School attendance requirements were developed at a time when texting, Skyping and FaceTime were the stuff of science fiction, rather than capabilities we carried around in our phones.

Schools have used online distance learning for years as a kind of special event - to connect students with teachers in other countries, for instance. But the heavy snows of the winter of 2013-2014 are straining school calendars, and the idea of virtual school days gains a little traction every time the school buses can't.

The Department of Education should be leading this trend, rather than following it, developing guidelines to make sure that students who telecommute are getting as rigorous a curriculum as they would be getting in person. That will be even more important if lawmakers heed Gov. Chris Christie's call for a longer school year and longer school day.

We'd hate to see virtual school days completely replace snow days. Every education should have some room for the pleasures of an unexpected day off and a snowy world of opportunity.

But this is an idea worth exploring, especially if this winter's snow turns out to be our new weather pattern for a while rather than an anomaly.

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