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Are Traditional Snow Days On The Brink Of Extinction?

Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Crider says traditional school snow days could become a thing of the past after the COVID-19 pandemic.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Crider says traditional school snow days could become a thing of the past after the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the advent of remote learning options during the COVID-19 pandemic, school snow days could start to disappear.

When a cold snap brought snow and below-freezing temperatures to central Illinois last week, Peoria Public Schools District 150 pivoted to at-home instruction four times.

Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Crider said that is just one example of school districts’ growing ability to switch to a virtual alternative on short notice when inclement weather dictates – and that could make the traditional snow day increasingly rare.

“I do believe that when we get past the pandemic, there are a lot of things that are going to stay, and there’s a lot of things that we’re not going to do any more. Snow days is one of those things that might become a thing of the past,” said Crider.

Illinois first launched a pilot program for e-learning as an alternative to snow days in 2016, and District 150 began using flexible learning days in the 2018-19 academic year through a program called “Learning Anywhere, Anytime.” This year’s option for remote learning days were authorized as part of Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 emergency order.

Crider suggested the advantages of being able to switch to remote learning during bad weather may outweigh the drawbacks.

“School districts are having to weigh, that’s one more day they’re not face-to-face with their students, and we are trying to utilize as much of that time as possible,” she said.

“But on the other side of that coin, we’re getting pretty good at it now, and students know how to access their remote or virtual learning. So the opportunity for them to use that instead of a snow day is actually more accessible.”

However, not all administrators want to see snow days vanish. Illini Bluffs School District 327 superintendent Roger Alvey said he made the decision to stick with the tradition, at least for this year.

“Part of the reason is that it’s been such a crazy year with remote learning and so forth, and we all know that in-person learning is better than remote learning,” Alvey said. “So I would rather make up those days in person.”

Alvey labeled himself “somewhat of a traditionalist,” saying the pandemic already has deprived kids of too many things and doesn’t want snow days added to that list.

“Quite honestly, I think I’m in the minority in the Peoria area. In my conversations with superintendents, it seems that most other districts are actually doing remote and that’s fine; that works for them,” said Alvey. “But in our case, it was just something that I thought was important, both for learning and for kids to actually be kids.”

Crider said that prior to the COVID emergency order, districts had the ability to develop official e-learning plans and submit them to her office for approval before the start of the school year, and those plans would then be filed with the state. Many of those plans have been used as a baseline for the current at-home instruction alternatives.

“Now that we’ve had time to spend an entire year working hard to implement learning that’s done at home, we’ve got the processes in place now,” she said of the expansion of e-learning during the pandemic. “It is a lot easier to shift to that now that we’ve had the practice.”

Alvey said tradition isn’t his only reason for sticking with normal snow days, noting connectivity issues make it difficult for some students to readily access remote learning platforms.

“In my district, we have some families that don’t have the Internet, and the only way they have it is if we provide it to them with a hotspot,” he said. “So on a remote learning day that’s called unexpectedly, some of our kids aren’t going to have the access that the other kids enjoy and benefit from. So from that standpoint, there’s an equity issue in my mind as well.”

Crider said using remote learning in place of snow days also allows districts to maintain their academic calendars and not have to extend classes far past Memorial Day.

“There’s something to be said about that as well, for planning for the end of your school year,” she said. For families that want to go on vacation and staff that have other obligations, you’ll know when your school year ends.”

WCBU Story

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Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.