MONTPELIER — It might be scorching hot outside, but the super extended forecast for Vermont calls for the return of “snow days.”
That refreshing news is based on the latest guidance from the state Agency of Education, which bent the rules for the school year that is about to end, but has signaled it will be bending them back for the one that will start at the end of August.
Seems reports of the potential demise of snow days in the post-pandemic era were premature. School districts might be technologically capable of a short notice pivot to the remote learning format most used at some level during the soon-to-be-concluded school year. However, what was allowed at the height of a public health emergency won’t be allowed going forward and area superintendents who candidly wondered whether they had canceled school for the last time because of the weather just learned they haven’t shed that part of their job description.
In a May 28 memo outlining operational plans for the fall, the agency stressed the “regulatory flexibility” used during the pandemic to sidestep statutory requirements involving student attendance will not be extended into the coming school year.
“… The agency provided an alternate method of counting student attendance through remote means, which in many cases allowed a minimum student contact to count as full attendance for the school day,” the memo states. “A similar degree of flexibility will not be given this fall.”
The same goes for snow days.
“… Districts were permitted to count inclement weather days as ‘attendance’ days if remote learning was implemented in accordance with the pandemic attendance guidelines,” the memo states. “This will no longer be the case for the fall — inclement weather days such as snow days will need to be made up later in the year if necessary.”
It’s why Washington Central Superintendent Bryan Olkowski, who was among those who wondered whether the district’s experience with COVID-19 might have made it immune from snow days in the future, built five “contingency days” into the calendar he recently presented to the board for its approval.
Assuming the district uses all five “contingency days” the last day of school for students will be June 23, 2022.
The story is the same in the Montpelier Roxbury Public School District where Superintendent Libby Bonesteel added three “snow days” to the calendar she presented her board for approval last week.
Bonesteel explained the adjustment in an accompanying memo of her own.
“… The Agency of Education’s interpretation of the attendance statute is that it means physical presence on a school campus,” she wrote. “They (agency officials) are therefore not allowing schools to do a virtual school day during inclement weather.”
Not all school districts embraced the notion of requiring students to participate in remote learning when the weather was bad and stuck to the more traditional route not withstanding the flexibility the state offered. To the extent it worked they were rewarded because they won’t have to shift back to the old normal when winter rolls around.
While snow days will be back, Bonesteel didn’t rule out a return of face masks, which remain required apparel for students and staff for what little is left of the school year and next year is an open question.
“… It seems that the thought process around this (masks) from state leaders is evolving each week as they consider the realities on the ground,” she wrote. “This remains in the “wait and see” category.”