With COVID-19 pushing education online for many students, snow days could be a thing of the past.
Around the region, school leaders are taking different approaches to Wednesday’s impending storm. Some are declaring snow days a cherished tradition that kids need despite the fact that remote learning means many kids aren’t going to school buildings anyway. Others are holding firm.
In Philadelphia, “with students and staff learning and working remotely, there is no need to cancel classes,” said Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District. “If we find that the weather causes issues that prevent instruction or learning, we will absolutely make the necessary adjustments and communicate such to our staff, students, and families.”
Philadelphia school buildings have been closed to students since March, with no immediate plans to return children to face-to-face instruction.
Some districts didn’t contemplate the prospect of a traditional snow day in their announcements to families.
In Tredyffrin/Easttown, district leaders said students would attend school virtually in the event of “emergency closing days,” following their regular schedules.
Lower Merion is shifting all schools to virtual instruction Wednesday and Thursday — but said that “due to concerns about anticipated power outages,” most of Thursday’s virtual lessons wouldn’t be conducted over live video, but rather completed by students independently.
Some districts are still planning for school — but with a bit of flexibility.
If snow causes the Council Rock School District to close for in-person instruction Thursday, school will still be in session virtually. But students will be able to complete work at their own pace, instead of logging on for live video classes.
Superintendent Robert Fraser said the district, which is already scheduled to have a virtual instruction day Wednesday, wants Thursday to count toward the 180 days of instruction required by the state.
But “we will also want for our kiddos to have a chance to get outside and play in the snow if they’re able to do so,” he said in a letter to families. “Hopefully, this model accomplishes the best of both worlds.”
Cherry Hill is taking a similar approach, Superintendent Joseph Meloche said, especially since its all-virtual school schedule ends students’ days at 1 p.m. anyway.
Since the district’s virtual instruction days are shorter than a typical in-person school day, “it still provides quite a bit of time” for students to go outside and play in the snow, Meloche said. “Which I think they should. It’s been two years since we’ve actually had a snow day” in the South Jersey district.
Cinnaminson Superintendent Steve Cappello said the snow day wasn’t dead for his students.
“If there is a way to find flexibility and fluidity in our day, there is inherent good in giving kids a chance to play,” Cappello said. “Our kids still need a chance to be kids. Face masks do wonders to keep kids warm as well.”
In other cases, school leaders see maintaining snow days as a potential pandemic reprieve. Upper Dublin School District Superintendent Steve Yanni said the district had built three snow days into its calendar and would use them if needed.
Anything beyond the third, however, would be a virtual instruction day.
”We realize how stressed everyone is with the situation,” Yanni said. “Even if it’s a one day break,” a snow day can “make things a little more tolerable.”
Similarly, Neshaminy School District Superintendent Rob McGee recently told parents that snow days are still in play.
Snow days, McGee told parents in a letter, “serve as a ‘rite of passage’ for many family traditions,” including sleeping in, playing games, and building snowmen. If it turns out to be a “bad winter,” though — affecting the school calendar — snow days could be replaced by virtual instruction, the Neshaminy superintendent said.
Garnet Valley schools, in Delaware County, announced Tuesday they would pivot to virtual instruction on Wednesday in an effort to give families consistency, avoiding the need to abruptly close schools as coronavirus cases spike. But students are guaranteed a day off Thursday to soak in the snow, Superintendent Marc Bertrando said.
Technology means school is possible, Bertrando said in a letter to families. But “as parents and/or educators we also recognize that the first snow is a special occasion, especially when it falls during the holiday season. As a result, we are using one of the three snow days that are built into our calendar to provide our children a reprieve from the disruptions and restrictions that COVID has brought to their lives so that they can get away from the screens and enjoy some fun outside.”
Fun, Bertrando said, “has been sorely missed by our kids, and we need to find a way to provide it — albeit with all of the appropriate health precautions.”