Last month, officials at the Connecticut Department of Education drafted regulations to allow school districts to convert snow days into remote learning days. But several school districts contacted by CT Examiner aren’t quite ready to let go of yet another staple of New England childhood.
“A snow day is joyful and exciting,” said Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser at a recent board of education meeting.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to take away one more thing from the students right now,” explained Neviaser. “Philosophically, I don’t agree.”
Neviaser said that having snow days was something he considered part of supporting students’ social and emotional health.
Pat Charles, interim superintendent of Westbrook schools, echoed Neviaser. Her district was still discussing the issue, Charles said, but was leaning toward letting a snow day be a snow day.
“A snow day, it’s like the one thing kids look forward to in the winter,” she said. “It’s like a sense of normalcy for them.”
East Lyme Superintendent Jeffery Newton said the district would only consider using the remote learning days after they had used up the three snow days the district already has built into their calendar.
“Inclement weather days (snow days) bring a sense of normalcy and standard practice that has been in place for years,” Newton wrote in an email. “One less disruption to what students and staff are used to supports the social and emotional wellbeing of all.”
At a meeting of the state Board of Education on October 7, state officials said that remote learning on snow days was a measure they were only considering within the strange context of the pandemic.
“If we’re able to provide an opportunity for people to learn online that meets that threshold of quality, we should be able to allow it under this pandemic emergency,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.
The state guidelines require 4.5 hours of remote instruction for elementary school students and 5 hours of remote instruction for high school students in order for a snow day to be considered a full day of school. Half of those hours have to be live instruction.
Aside from raising the sentimental value of snow days, school superintendents contacted by CT Examiner also cite more practical concerns.
Neviaser said it wasn’t fair to tell teachers at 5 a.m. that they needed to have remote lesson plans prepared by 8 a.m. He said that Lyme-Old Lyme schools generally give teachers 48 hours notice to prepare a remote lesson plan.
The state recommends that schools that choose to offer remote learning on a snow day make their decision the night before.
Charles also said there’s also the problem of whether people could lose power during a snowstorm, leaving them without access to the internet.
Schools would also be required to provide meals for students on remote learning days, which Jan Peruccio, superintendent of Old Saybrook schools, acknowledged could be “tricky.”
But other districts, including Old Saybrook, are leaning toward taking advantage of the opportunity for remote learning, recognizing that it would allow for more planned vacation days going forward, and perhaps even a chance to end the school year early in June.
“It’s kind of one of those ‘pay now, pay later,’” said Peruccio.
According to Peruccio, when she brought the question to a board of education meeting on Tuesday night, asking parents, students and staff for their thoughts on the issue, opinions were mixed.
“Parents have asked me a lot about it — ‘Are snow days a thing of the past?’” she said. “The answer is, snow days could be a thing of the past, at least for this year.”
Perruccio said offering remote learning on snow days might give the district the ability to experiment with start times — for instance, beginning school at 9 a.m. so that students could sleep in, or coordinating start and end times for all the schools so that staff members would be teaching at the same time that their students were in class.
“I guess it depends on who you are. I’m the planner,” said Peruccio. “But other people like surprises. So I don’t think we’re going to make everybody happy on this one.”