Education

As snow falls, some ask – do schools still need ‘snow days’?

By Guy Page

November 2, 2020 – The first major fall snowstorm blanketed Vermont this morning. Some Vermonters asked: do schools with institutionalized, widespread remote learning still need ‘snow days’?

For example, the State of Vermont’s Chief Information Officer John Quinn, a father of young children, tweeted on his personal account this morning: “There shouldn’t be a traditional snow day anymore. I mean, after all, if we can flip to a remote school environment on a few hours notice, then we don’t need to call off school for snow.”

photo: Kelly Sikkema, http://www.unsplash.com

State law requires 175 days of instruction. The subject of snow days in a remote learning world was raised in an August 26 Times Argus/Rutland Herald story. Now that a day of hybrid learning-at-home counts as a day of instruction, why bother cancelling school? David Younce, president of the Vermont Superintendents’ Association, called the idea “common sense commentary,” saying “the ability to work and learn from home is going to become more and more normalized,”

A Vermont Agency of Education spokesman told the Times-Argus in August not much thought had yet been given to changing snow days policy. But evidently it was discussed afterwards. September 10 Education Secretary Dan French told VPR “it’s something we are actively looking at.” On September 15, the Agency issued this ruling:

“Districts can count inclement weather days as “attendance” days if remote learning is implemented in accordance with our attendance guidelines:

• at least 51% of the student body “recorded … as in attendance” per day

• On each day for which attendance is recorded, an educator makes contact with the student by video chat or telephone or the student logs into a Learning Management System (LMS) and engages in learning activities;

• Minimum instructional hours are met…”

In other words, a real nor’easter can still count as a school day if school records show more than half of the enrolled students attend and learn. No longer does it virtually guarantee a “snowcation.” However, nothing in the new rule prevents a school district from announcing a traditional snow day.

Vermont Daily called Berlin Elementary School this morning to inquire into its “real-time” snowday status. A pleasant receptionist said, no, today was not a snow day. “We do still have snow days, but we have to get a lot more snow than we did today,” she laughed.  

Post-pandemic, the Legislature will need to decide how much to continue pandemic measures like remote learning, universal absentee ballots, and Zoom legislation. But for now, a big snowfall can still mean guilt-free outdoor play on a schoolday – after the classwork is done. 

With first snowfall, Scott reminds of indoor Covid prevention – Gov. Phil Scott issued this Tweet this morning: “The first few snowfalls in Vermont are always a beautiful sight, but this year it is also an important reminder that in the coming months we will have to spend more time indoors. If we want to continue to suppress COVID-19, we must be extra careful to protect our communities.”

Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine have been emphatic that October’s rise in Covid cases is due in part to people being indoors more. At his press conference Friday, he urged Vermonters to not relax Covid safety protocols “if we want to keep our schools and economy open.”

Photo credit Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com.

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