With remote learning underway, what happens to snow days?

By and KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Are snow days a thing of the past?

The first snow of the season is arriving in the region, but regardless of the conditions outside, the Philadelphia School District is not planning a snow day.  Many kids anticipating a day off are going to be disappointed.

With a virtual learning model already in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, many Philly-area school districts now have another option to consider when deciding whether or not classes will be held for bad weather.

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite says because students have been equipped with Chromebooks for remote learning, there’s no need to cancel classes.

"The beauty of digital learning is that inclement weather will not impact the ability to continue carrying out teaching and learning," he said Wednesday. "We didn't give out 100,000 pieces of technology just to disconnect them because there's inclement weather."

Hite says students have lost significant instructional time during the pandemic, and equipping everyone to learn remotely has changed the way the district does things.

Students at Philadelphia’s Masterman High School circulated a petition calling for a snow day to give students a break in a year when so much has been taken away.  But Hite said the petition was unlikely to sway his position.

While he said he recommends taking short breaks from screen time, students will not be getting a daylong break as in the past.

Hite said it is as yet unclear when district students and teachers will return to school buildings in the coming year. He said he believes it will happen, but he could not say which grades would be returning, or when.

The Lower Merion School District is also taking advantage of at-home connectivity, switching to flexible instructional days Wednesday and Thursday.

"As long as the power stays on and the internet stays up, ... we anticipate they should seamlessly be able to interact this way for school," school district spokeswoman Amy Buckman said.

Buckman says transportation concerns were were factored into the decision.

"The last thing we want to see happen is to try to bring the kids in for in-person instruction and then have children stuck on buses, which are enclosed smaller spaces, where they may not have the social distancing that they have in a classroom with a smaller population for an extended period of time during a storm," Buckman added. "And that just seemed too big of a risk to take during COVID."

The Souderton Area district called for a virtual school day for Wednesday, said Dr. Frank T. Gallagher, the school district’s superintendent.

"We have a very large school district. We are 49 square miles. And our terrain is somewhat challenging in a snowstorm, because we are in the upper part of Montgomery County, with some very rural back roads and hills. We are probably the hilliest part of Montgomery County," Gallagher said.

He said school officials wanted to take advantage of the flexible instruction day to keep students and staff safe.

"Let’s face it, children’s education has been so disrupted in the last 10 months. I think as much instruction as we can provide is our duty. Now, that doesn’t mean every snow event is going to be a flexible instructional day. It’s just going to depend on the circumstance," Gallagher said.

The Upper Darby School District caled for flexible instruction on Wednesday, but on Thursday students will have a good old-fashioned snow day. That's thanks in part to a kindergartener on a home and school video conference who unmuted herself to say, "I want to play."

"Which was really cute," said Upper Darby Superintendent Dr. Daniel P. McGarry. "And that's why we are moving in that direction for Thursday."

McGarry said the student got full credit for the decision.

"I told that kindergarten student, 'You warmed my cold heart,'" he said.

"Every decision we are making, we are making it with so many variables. And we are trying to keep in mind the social and emotional aspect to it as well as the need to continue the education that we need to provide our kids."

The Neshaminy School District website announced a snow day for Wednesday and Thursday, while on Friday, schools will have a Zoom day.