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School districts opt for snow days over online

While many school districts have had students learning from home at least part of this past year, superintendents opted for traditional snow day instead of a virtual learning day Monday.

The decision was reached early Monday morning after National Weather Service forecasters called for heavy snow that would make travel treacherous Monday afternoon.

WASHINGTON

Snow days are a “rite of passage” and the Washington schools didn’t want to take that away.

Even though the students could work virtually, Superintendent Willie Stone said there are three snow days built into the schedule.

“Things have been challenging enough for students, snow days are kind of a rite of passage,” Stone said.

Stone said he made the decision to cancel school on Monday at 4:30 a.m. and announced it by 5 a.m. The decision was based on the intensity of the snow predicted and the indecisiveness of when it was expected to start.

His main concern was the safety of staff and students, Stone said.

The snow was expected to hit hard and fast.

Along with safety, Stone said the day was not going to be very productive if students were expecting to leave early.

If there are more than three snow days this year, Stone said they will “switch gears.” School is out on May 21. Digital days will be used instead of snow days if it looks like the students will be in school past Memorial Day weekend.

Students under fifth grade are not sent home with technology such as laptops and tablets, Stone said. The school is prepared to do that if digital days become necessary.

The Highland Community School District and Mid-Prairie Community School District canceled classes as well.

— Caitlin Yamada

MT. PLEASANT

Mt. Pleasant Community School District declared Monday, a snow day after a 4:30 a.m. conference call with the National Weather Service. Instead of opting for online learning, the district decided to take the snow day and make it up later in the year.

“A couple of months ago in one of the school board meetings, we decided that online learning in replacement of snow days wasn’t something for us,” Mt. Pleasant Superintendent John Henriksen said. “Though the Department of Education gave us the opportunity to do it, we thought it wasn’t optimum learning for our students.”

— Mariah Giberson

FAIRFIELD

Most school districts in southeast Iowa opted to cancel classes Monday instead of trying to hold the classes virtually, something they’ve had experience with as the coronavirus has forced the adoption of an online learning option.

School districts that closed included Fairfield, Cardinal, Pekin and Van Buren. Though some districts could have held classes, they chose not to.

Cardinal Community School District Superintendent Joel Pedersen said his district is set up to offer online instruction on snow days, but administrators didn’t want to rob students of a chance to take a break from their computers.

“We feel the kids need to be able to experience a traditional snow day,” he said. “We believe that it is good for their mental health to hopefully get outside and decrease screen time on snow days.”

Van Buren Community School District Superintendent Jeremy Hissem said his district can offer online classes on snow days, but it’s also built in snow days into the calendar, so he said the district can afford to take a few days off during the winter.

Not only that, but he said many families in the district do not have quality internet, and laptops and iPads would need to be sent home with students before a snow day. That complicates holding impromptu virtual classes.

“We began the year with 67.5 extra hours (10 school days) over the 1,080 hours required by the Department of Education,” Hissem said. “With the extra stresses that our students, families and staff have had over the last six to eight months, a good ol’ fashioned snow day seemed like the right thing to do.”

Pekin Community School District Superintendent Dave Harper said Monday’s forecast predicting a snowstorm was a good opportunity for students and staff to take a break from their routine.

“We have discussed [online classes] but went with a good old fashion snow day for our kids,” he said. “Our students and staff have been going to school every day since the start of the year, and they could use a day to enjoy the snow in Iowa.”

Like Van Buren, Pekin administrators are not worried about making up a lot of snow days at the end of the year. Harper said virtual-only school days aren’t necessary at this point, and he believes students do better in the face-to-face model anyway.

“We are prepared to do [online classes], but we are holding off at this point since we are good with hours,” he said. “Sometimes we just need to take a break and pause and enjoy everything around us.”

One of the only local schools to hold class Monday was Maharishi School, a private school in Fairfield. Students attended in-person instruction in the morning but were sent home in the afternoon due to forecasted freezing rain. However, the students were still instructed to logon to their afternoon classes online, so they wouldn’t miss any instruction.

Richard Beall, co-head of school at Maharishi School, said if the weather is bad Monday night or Tuesday morning, the plan is to hold classes virtually on Tuesday instead of canceling them.

“There might be days when we call a snow day, but at this point, we’ve got all of February ahead of us,” Beall said. “If we can get a day of in-person school in, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Beall said about 80 percent of Maharishi School students are attending classes in-person, up from about 67 percent to start the school year. The rest are taking courses online.

Fairfield Community School District Superintendent Laurie Noll was in meetings Monday and unavailable for comment.

— Andy Hallman