Will Remote Learning Eliminate Snow Days? Wilmington School Committee Split On Approach, Will Survey Parents & Teachers

WILMINGTON, MA — In the case of a winter storm, will Wilmington students have snow days, or will snow days be replaced by full remote learning days? The School Committee is currently divided on the matter.

At the October 28, 2020 School Committee Meting, Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand explained that the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is leaving the decision of whether or not to eliminate snow days and replace them with remote learning days up to each individual school district.

“If there are days when schools must close because of inclement weather or other emergency, districts may choose whether to treat those days as ‘snow days’ to be made up later or provide all students with remote learning on those days in a manner that is consistent with regulatory requirements. This decision will be made at the local level,” DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote in his October 19 weekly update.

Acknowledging there were pros and cons to either approach, Dr. Brand recommended to the School Committee that snow days remain.

“Inclement weather could lead to power outages that could prevent either a student or teacher from getting online,” wrote Brand in a memo to the Committee. “Alternatively, i the District is operating again within a fully remote model for a period of time, the cancellation of school for a day due to inclement weather may be perceived as a benefit by some parents/guardians for their children.”

The School Committee, however, was split on the matter.

Members MJ Byrnes and Steve Bjork spoke in favor of retaining snow days.

“I do support your initial thought that we should keep snow days as snow days,” MJ Byrnes told Brand. “And if we have to add days on to the end of the school year, it may allow us to get kids into the building for in-person instruction.”

“A mental health day is just as important at the juncture in light of the current circumstances,” Byrnes added. “There’s so much anxiety right now for parents and students.”

“I think this may be a trivial stance, but we’re offering our children so little at the chance of normalcy, affording them a snow day or two is not a bad idea,” agreed Steve Bjork.

Members Jay Samaha and David Ragsdale expressed a preference for holding remote learning days in place of snow days.

“I would actually be in favor of using the snow days as remote days. The infrastructure is already laid and we’re set up for it. The [state’s] 4 outline requirements for remote learning would be met,” said Samaha. “I understand the issue of power outages. I know it happens, but the majority of snow days is just a lot of snow and the power is generally OK. I’d be in favor of having further discussion.”

“I’m included to think we should use snow days as learning days since we have the capabilities. I’m in alignment with Mr. Samaha that the groundwork is laid and the infrastructure is in place,” responded Ragsdale. 

Members Jennifer Bryson and Jesse Fennelly indicated an interest in taking a flexible approach where some snow days could remain snow days, while other snow days could become remote learning days.

“Part of me feels like it depends on the length of the stretch of snow days and many snow days we have left [beyond our 5 built in to the calendar],” said Bryson. “If we have a storm that hits pretty hard, but then we have a few days where people can’t go anywhere, there’s no reason not to have remote learning. Can we make a decision like that?…. If we have a bad winter with seven, eight or nine snow days, then I think parents are going to start saying we should run remote days. If it’s just one or two snow days, I don’t think it’s much of a big deal.”

After hearing a similar question from Fennelly, Dr. Brand did confirm that the district would take a flexible approach based on the circumstances.

Per a request from member David Ragsdale, the Committee directed Brand to survey parents/guardians and teachers/staff on their thoughts.

“I definitely hear good arguments on both sides. I would like to know what other people not in this room think,” said Ragsdale. “I would suggest that we conduct a survey of district parents and staff to try to collect data about what other people’s preferences are. You can make arguments both ways. I’d be curious to know what the community thinks about this.”

Brand agreed to develop such a survey. He also noted that conversations would need to take place with the Wilmington Teachers Association if remote learning days were to replace snow days. Given recent weather forecasts, Brand recognized the urgency of the survey.

“If we’re ever going to have a repeat of the Blizzard of ’78, 2020 is the year it’s probably going to happen,” joked member Steve Bjork.

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