Snow days have always been a right of passage for kids in the New England region, a brief respite from schoolwork marked by sleeping in and making snowmen.
But now, with school districts across Massachusetts still relying on remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, the future of snow days may come into question.
In Worcester, where students are learning remotely through at least the first semester, Superintendent Maureen Binienda said she’s waiting to hear from state education officials on what the plan will be for students this winter. But, Binienda said she thinks the possibility of traditional snow days turning into online learning days is a change she would welcome.
“We can do remote learning with students online for the whole day. By the end of this year, all of us are going to have really good established practices with that,” Binienda said. “It would make sense that you could do the remote learning.”
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told MassLive that the department expects to issue guidance on snow days in the coming weeks.
While October is typically a little early to see snowflakes, the sporadic New England climate has dumped Halloween-time snowstorms before.
School models vary across Massachusetts between in-person and hybrid classes, while districts like Worcester and Springfield remain completely remote. For students who go into school, snowstorms will bring the usual concerns about whether or not children can safely get to school.
But for students who are still learning online, while transportation won’t be a consideration, being able to access the internet will be a concern. With the near-guarantee of Nor’easters dumping inches, or feet, of snow in the coming months, power outages could prevent students and teachers from logging on to class.
Districts with remote learning models this week and in late September got a taste of trying to learn online when bad weather strikes. Rain and wind gusts led to power outages across the state.
In Worcester, there may need to be a snow day if students can’t get online, Binienda said in an interview.
On Thursday, three areas of the city were without WiFi after the storm. Service was restored during the day, Binienda said at a Thursday afternoon press conference outside Worcester City Hall.
“If all the WiFi was knocked out in the city, we would have to call a snow day and we would have to make that up because the students would not have access to learning,” she added.
For districts that are not fully remote like Worcester, switching to remote learning on a snow day could be difficult even without issues of power outages.
“I think one of the reasons [the state is] discussing it is that if a group is back to school in person completely in the state and then they have to take a snow day, they would not be prepared to do the remote versus the other schools that are remote,” Binienda said. “There wouldn’t be equity there.”
Binienda said she would be a fan of switching in the future to learning remotely on what would be a snow day. If there’s too much snow for students to safely get to school, they could learn online instead now that teachers and students have had practice with a remote model, the superintendent suggested.
But, for districts that have used remote learning less than Worcester, Binienda said she can understand not wanting to switch to a remote model on a snow day.
“If you’re already in remote, that makes sense to me,” Binienda said.
Worcester hopes to bring students back into buildings after the first quarter, but the timeline depends on coronavirus spread in the community and upgrades to building HVAC systems.
“We’re working on a plan to bring back our most severe special ed kids by Nov. 16,” Binienda said.
Other districts in areas of the country hit hard by snow are considering what to do this winter. The New York City Department of Education announced last month that on snow days, or days in which school buildings are closed due to an emergency, all students should plan on participating in online learning.
- Power outages delay students from remote learning as schools advise families to ‘log on when able’
- Remote learning in Worcester going well, superintendent says, but there have been WiFi issues