Are snow days a thing of the past for Maryland students?

More school districts eye remote learning as an alternative to bad weather-days that can cut into spring break or extend the school year

Published 12/28/2022 6:00 a.m. EST

A picture of a vehicle window from the perspective of someone inside the vehicle, looking out. The window is covered in rain and melting frost, with a rearview mirror in the photo and an icy landscape beyond.

Maybe you have worn your pajamas inside out, put a spoon under your pillow or flushed ice cubes down the toilet as a good luck charm when you went to bed the night before snow was predicted, hoping that inches and inches would pile up before dawn to close schools. Ahead was hours of extra sleep, sledding, snowball fights and TV binging.

Or you remember praying in front of the television as the list of school closures scrolled across the bottom.

Those glorious snow days may become less predictable and frequent thanks to the prevalence of online learning in the wake of the the COVID-19 pandemic. So across Maryland, school systems have been asking the state for approval to offer classes online or at least assign work to do on inclement weather days. The reason? It’s tough to get in the 180 days of mandatory school with a week of bad weather in the winter — unless you want school to be in session in late June.

About 17 of the state’s 24 school systems, many in central Maryland, have gotten permission to do so. Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard and Harford counties have all said they will hold some classes online when bad weather closes schools. School systems can offer up to eight days of online school, with five of those having to be live, online classes that students attend rather than assigned classwork. And they can use them for professional development for teachers as well as snow days.

Not surprisingly, Maryland students aren’t really enthusiastic. In fact, the whole idea seems somewhat controversial for students.

Emerging from two years of pandemic instruction, many students are tired of online instruction and don’t want to return to it, even for a few days, said Maja Durkovic, who is president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils. She said it was debated among students.

“I am sure that attendance would be very low,” she said. “If only one teacher is hosting a class, do we even bother signing in?” she said, describing what some students may think. In the future, she said, students may be more open to the idea of online instruction during school.

“I think just generally the average student doesn’t love it. Because we would like a day off every once in awhile,” said Camille E. Coffey, a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. The winter months are busy, Coffey said, and so a snow day in February or March is always welcome.

The Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City, for which Coffey is the African American diversity liaison, has some serious concerns as well. “There is concern that some students may be left behind. We are really pushing some changes to be made to the policy so that as many students can benefit” from virtual learning, Coffey said.

The organization is recommending to the Baltimore City school board that it ensure counselors and mental health professionals are available on online learning days; that wireless hot spots be provided in advance to students who may not have consistent Wi-Fi at home; and that special education students be given access to what they need to learn.

Because not all students have access to consistent Wi-Fi, state education officials are requiring that school districts make sure students who aren’t able to complete an assignment on a snow day are not penalized and are given time to make up the work when they return to school.

Anne Arundel County has designed a system that tries to be both practical and let the joy of a snow day prevail. The decision to hold online school will be determined by the superintendent on a case-by-case basis. “Every snow day in February is a school day in June,” said Bob Mosier, the spokesman for Anne Arundel County schools.

So if it is an overcast, icy day that leaves roads hazardous, the superintendent may decide to have everyone go to school online. But if there are six inches of snow on the ground, he can give students a real snow day with no instruction.

“The superintendent has been, with a middle school student himself … clear he appreciates the value of good old-fashioned snow days,” Mosier said.

Many school systems have opted for “asynchronous” learning on days when schools are closed due to bad weather, so students won’t have to show up for live, online classroom instruction, but rather can do homework assignments given to them by their teachers. So, Mosier said, students can set their own schedules, going out to play when they want and still completing school work at any hour.

In Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County, students will get to enjoy snow days initially, then take part in online instruction for subsequent bad-weather days. In the city, students will go online after three days of bad-weather closures; in Carrroll it is four days and in Baltimore County, five days.

In Harford and Howard counties, students will take classes remotely for the first three days of closures for bad weather, but after that they will have days off.

Baltimore County teachers union President Cindy Sexton said there’s been very little discussion among teachers about the change; partly, she believes, because the first five days will be traditional snow days. Teachers, she said, don’t want to lose days in spring break or see the school year lengthened by snow days.

She acknowledged that although she personally never wanted to miss a day of summer break, “that unexpected time off in the middle of a week, it is exciting for teachers as well.”

Durkovic, the student government representative who attends Eastern Technology High School in Baltimore County, said her life wouldn’t stop during snow days because she has so much school work to do. With Advanced Placement exams looming in May, she has to get through a long curriculum. “Even if it was a snow day, I would have to do that work anyway,” she said.

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