Area school districts forced to make decisions: traditional snow day or virtual learning

MADISON, Wis.– The pandemic gave schools a tool to use on a snowy day like today, but school districts were still left with a challenging decision: call off class altogether or make kids log in remotely.

Mount Horeb schools were one of the first to try the untraditional snow day.

“If I were to just draw the blinds here today, it could be 85 and sunshine out or it could be two degrees and snowing,” Superintendent Steve Salerno said.

Salerno made the call to switch from in-person to virtual learning for the younger students and continue virtual learning for the older students. He said that decision is the best of both worlds.

“When we first announced this, there were some families that said, ‘Come on, Steve. Just let kids be kids for crying out loud,'” Salerno said. “I think we can do both, and so, by allowing an e-learning day today, it also allows kids to get outside and get some fresh air, run around and enjoy a snow day.”

Waunakee students, however, got a bonus day of winter break.

“We were all excited to have to have our students return today,” Superintendent Randy Guttenberg said. “We worked really hard to be prepared for them to come back to school.”

Grades 5th through 12th were supposed to join the younger students in-person for the first time this year, but the forecast yesterday afternoon didn’t quite prepare the district for what roads looked like this morning.

“We woke up this morning and we were assessing it at about 4:45. We certainly had significant more snowfall, more wind and more challenges on our roads,” Guttenberg said.

Guttenberg said Waunakee schools anticipate trading in traditional snow days for virtual learning days, but teachers and students need some warning a day in advance.

Other area school districts shared their reasoning behind closing altogether or logging in online. Find their responses below:

Deerfield Community School District sent this statement: “Deerfield has remained with a traditional snow day of no school classes being held.  There are a few reasons for this decision.  First, our internet capabilities in the Deerfield area are inconsistent and weather can cause additional problems so it takes additional time and effort for parents to get their kids online, on top, of potentially sharing the internet for their own work needs. Second, our staff live in many surrounding communities, some far away, and some have the same internet issues based on their location which makes it difficult for them to teach from home without interruption. Last and maybe most important, while we recognize that technology has offered us some very unique and helpful ways to instruct our students during the pandemic, we also remember the sheer joy that a “snow day” brings children much like it did us in our own childhood. It’s the opportunity to be offline and off-screen, to go outside and play in the snow and warm up to hot cocoa, or, if you are older, it may be to catch up on school assignments (or be forced to go outside to shovel your driveway).  There are many things that COVID has taken away from kids the past several months, maybe a good old-fashioned snow day is the one thing we can still give them.”

DeForest Area School District said schools will shift to inclement weather virtual learning days if predicted forecasts suggest so by 3 p.m. the previous day. If an unexpected weather event happens after that time, both virtual and hybrid classes will be cancelled, because staff may not have the necessary tools for online learning at home.

Marshall Public Schools sent this statement: “In December, the Marshall Public Schools Board of Education discussed whether or not to implement a remote learning day or a traditional snow day if inclement weather forced the District to close.  After considering equity and availability for each student and staff member, the Board advised implementing an inclement weather/snow day if needed. Marshall’s staff are looking forward to welcoming our 3rd and 4th grade students back to in-person learning on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with their original first day of in-person learning today.”

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District sent this statement: “Our elementary staff members are in school buildings as we prepare for students at that level to return starting Feb. 1. We also have some middle and high school staff working in buildings. Many don’t live in our District and even those who did would have had to navigate some treacherous roads to get to work. We have 40-50 students who are in our buildings daily now because they lack internet access at home. It would have been challenging to have them attend school in-person today and if they didn’t they would not have been able to access virtual learning. We don’t want to do anything that exacerbates the opportunity gaps that already exist for our most marginalized students. We had about 100 high school students coming to Middleton High School today for the PSAT. We didn’t feel comfortable having them on the roads or taking our buses. Our 2020-21 calendar had inclement weather days built into it so calling off school today doesn’t mean we would have to add a day at the end of the school year in early June.”

Monona Grove School District sent this statement: “Despite the ongoing effects and unusual circumstances surrounding COVID-19, we will be applying severe winter weather protocol across the district. This means that whether a student is in-person or virtual learning, if there is severe weather necessitating a delay or closing, that decision will apply to all students across the district. We made this decision for several reasons, including the safety of in-person students, the safety of teachers and staff who work out of the buildings, and for consistency across the district. We informed families of this decision in early December in order to reduce uncertainty as much as possible.”

Oregon School District directed us to its website, which explains instruction will move online if the administration is able to anticipate a weather closure by 2:30 p.m. the day before it occurs. School will be closed and cancelled for the day if inclement weather occurs unexpectedly.

School District of Beloit Turner sent this statement: “Turner did an at home virtual day.  We know what virtual learning looks like.  We informed parents a few weeks ago that we would try this method if the opportunity presents itself.  Part of that step is to make sure all materials go home with students the day before the potential weather event.  We were able to do that and a vast majority of students were able to stay connected to their learning on our snow day.”

Verona Area School District sent this statement: “We are closed today.  We have made the decision to close for single day weather events.  If the weather requires a longer closure, we will transition to virtual on day two.”