Districts to employ mixed approaches to snow days

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CAPITAL REGION — Many students across the Capital Region can bank on at least some snow days this winter, but a handful of districts plan to still hold virtual school days when the weather forces buildings closed.

With the first major snowstorm of the season expected overnight Wednesday into the Thursday morning commute, districts will have the first chance to test out their pandemic-era snow day procedures. The State Education Department this year is allowing districts to teach remotely in lieu of what would have been a snow day in past years.

Many districts, though, have indicated they will grant snow days for at least a couple of snow emergencies, leaving open the possibility that they shift to conducting virtual school on days of bad weather as the winter continues.

“As of right now, we are going to treat snow as we always have – everybody is off if school is closed for snow,” Scotia-Glenville School District spokesperson Bob Hanlon said. “That includes in-person and virtual students.”

Hanlon said the district would use up its scheduled snow days before considering a change, noting that due to delays in delivery of a laptop order the district does not have enough Chromebook computers to support all of its elementary students remotely.

Saratoga Springs plans to uses its first two emergency weather days as traditional snow days, district spokesperson Maura Manny said. After those days are used up, “the district may transition emergency days to online instruction as needed,” she said. (School districts build a handful of snow days into their calendar, but if they are all used up district officials must consider cutting into spring break or other days off to ensure state requirements are met.)

The Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville, Broadalbin-Perth, Johnstown, Niskayuna, Schoharie and Fonda-Fultonville school districts have all indicated they plan to use snow days – at least to start out the snowy season.

Some districts, though, have laid plans to continue school virtually on days when school may have been canceled in the past. Mohonasen, South Colonie and Ballston Spa district leaders have all outlined plans to continue with remote instruction on days schools have to close due to weather. The Schenectady City School District did not respond to requests for comment.

In Mohonasen, teachers were asked to prepare “snow day plans” to have lessons and activities ready in the event all students go remote due to weather; the lessons will be shorter than typical days, allowing time for students to help shovel or play in the snow, according to a letter from Superintendent Shannon Shine outlining the district plans.

“While I suspect losing the traditional format of our snow days may be disappointing to some, I also believe that not having to use additional emergency closing days will be positively received,” Shine wrote, noting the plan minimizes the chance the district has to shorten its planned spring break.

The flexibility granted by the state set up a low-grade war over snow days, as some educators highlighted the important role snow days can play as a break for students or a chance to play outside, while other educators have highlighted the prospect that virtual technologies can help give students educational opportunities not possible in the past.

“Taking advantage of the district’s capacity to conduct classes remotely, South Colonie is preparing to shift to remote instruction in the event of inclement weather. This means, when possible, we do not plan to close school or call a snow day during the 2020-21 school year,” South Colonie officials wrote in a message outlining the district’s plans. “While this does not mean the end of snow days, our technological resources allow us greater flexibility when make the decision about whether to cancel school.”

Greater Amsterdam School District spokesperson John Noetzel said district officials planned to decide Wednesday how it planned to approach the potential snowstorm and school on Thursday. The district already transitioned entirely online due to staffing shortages caused by quarantine order, enabling it to continue in the event of a snowstorm, but Superintendent Rich Ruberti planned to discuss with other area superintendents how to approach the upcoming storm.

Regardless of their approach, it looks like district officials will be put to the test Thursday morning as forecasters project a snow storm that could bring a half-a-foot of snow or more to much of the region, including snowfall during the Thursday morning commute.

“A storm is definitely coming,” Mike Evans, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service Albany office, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s something people are going to have to watch, if the storm shifts even further north we are up to that foot range.”

Evans said forecasters expected the storm to start Wednesday night, possibly after the commuting hours, and stretch through the Thursday morning commute, petering out around noon. The storm could bring as much as six inches or more of snow to the core of the Capital Region, with the bulk of the storm more likely focused south of the region. But forecasting models Tuesday indicated the storm could shift further north, which would result in larger snowfall amounts in the Capital Region.

By Tuesday evening, the weather service placed the Capital Region under a winter storm watch, with points south placed under the more severe winter storm warning.

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