School ‘snow days’ could be a thing of the past, thanks to COVID-19

Dec 9, 2021, 10:01 PM | Updated: Dec 10, 2021, 11:07 am
FILE (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)...
FILE (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

School districts in Salt Lake and Utah counties didn’t expect the weather to have too big of an impact on their school day Friday, but some officials said even if it did get bad enough that the pandemic has changed their approach to what students typically think of as a “snow day.”

In the history of Canyons School District, spokesperson Jeff Haynie says there have only been three snow days. And thanks to a pandemic, three snow days may be all students at Canyons ever see.

“We learned a heck of a lot about how to provide information and education online,” Haynie said of the last nearly two years. “Maybe we don’t have to have a day off for the snow.”

Beginning last year, district officials decided if the weather was bad enough, students would stay home but pivot their school work online. Haynie says the response from students has been less than enthusiastic.

“Man, did we hear it from a lot of students!”

Alpine School District — the biggest district in the state — has also gotten rid of snow make-up days. Spokesperson David Stevenson said they’ve opted for a policy that includes an at-home learning day if there’s an emergency school closure.

Other districts don’t have those policies in place but say remote learning could be an option.

Sandy Riesgraf with the Jordan School District said snow days are already rare. She says they have had two in the last three years, and those came after a 16-year run of no snow days.

Riesgraf said Jordan doesn’t have a policy to automatically move students online in the event the weather keeps them home. In a phone call with KSL, she noted the challenge of securing laptops for each of the students.

“I don’t mean to be facetious at all but it does snow in the state of Utah,” said Ben Horsley with the Granite School District.

Horsley said, “a distance learning option is feasible.” He said all of their secondary school students are prepared for that scenario.

But Horsley stressed in-person instruction is always the priority for their students. And for more reasons than education. Two-thirds of their students rely on free or reduced meals.

“In some of those instances food insecurity is so significant they may not have a meal without being able to come to a safe warm school,” he said. “They may not have supervision at home.”

As the snow moved in Thursday, Horsley said he heard from multiple parents asking about getting to school the following day when colder temperatures and more snow was expected.

“I want to be very clear about this,” he said. “If you don’t feel safe coming to school, don’t. Please stay home. We respect your right as a parent to make the decision that’s in the best interest of your family.”

Haynie said even with the remote option, Canyons would still us that sort of “snow day” as a last resort if things got too dangerous to travel outside.

But on the rare occasion the snow is just too much, in at least some districts, it’s not enough to take the day off from school.

“There’s no such thing as a snow day anymore,” Haynie said. “It’s remote learning, and then afterward you can have your snow day.

One of the advantages to not having a snow day is that there are no make-up days later in the year.

The four school districts KSL spoke to didn’t expect major impacts to the school schedule on Friday but added they would be meeting early in the morning to determine whether it is safe to travel to school.

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School ‘snow days’ could be a thing of the past, thanks to COVID-19