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COVID-19 could mean end of traditional ‘snow days’ for schools

Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 6:37 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - With the COVID-19 pandemic leading districts to remote-learning plans, traditional, school-free days at home could be over for students. The remote learning plans allow students to still receive their education, even if they can’t physically be in school buildings.

On Monday, winter weather kept several districts across the Wichita area from meeting in-person. However, for many students, the “snow day” wasn’t a green light to play in the snow, make hot chocolate, and watch movies all day. Classes continued with remote instruction at districts including Valley Center where students still did squeeze in some wintry fun, even though they didn’t have the whole day off.

While they had to schedule most of that fun in between classes on Zoom, Valley Center students like Brenley Trotter and Avery Babcock said it could be worse as they did enjoy time making a snowman in a community park.

For the Valley Center school district, Monday was an opportunity to take advantage of the learning plan it developed in response to the pandemic.

“At any given moment, a student or a classroom, or even the entire district may have to go remote. We really seized the opportunity to turn our snow days into remote-learning days,” Valley Center Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cory Gibson said.

The district had a dry run of this plan last month to help prepare staff and students.

“A lot of it has to do with software. We had available software we used which is different depending on the grade levels and some of it was just exploring that and also having parents explore and see. We had opportunities for parents to actually engage through Zoom so they could also see from a parent’s perspective of how those programs work,” he said.

Dr. Gibson said technology was the biggest challenge the district had to think about.

“Grades four to 12 all have devices that are issued to them. At the elementary level, we send them home for those students who need a device in their home," Dr. Gibson said.

The district also provides hotspots for families in need of internet access. Dr. Gibson said the district also makes sure students' learning isn’t interrupted, and especially with the later start to the school year, it’s using every instructional opportunity available.

“Just like keeping people engaged. I really think this is one of the positives of the pandemic. It makes us think and rethink how we do education.”

He added, “It’s critical for education. As we know, we all lost quite a bit last spring, when we all went remote and did that home learning, and it looks different than it does this year. We refined, we made it better and so we need every moment we can with students to make sure that can achieve as much as we hope this school year.”

The remote-learning in Kansas isn’t a new concept. School districts across the country have had remote-learning snow days for the past few years. Dr. Gibson said Valley Center can still call a traditional snow day if needed. Ark City, Maize and Rose Hill were among other area districts who switched to remote learning Monday.

Notably, the state’s largest school district, Wichita Public Schools did not cancel classes Monday. Students at the middle-and-high-school levels in the district are already in remote-only learning until Nov. 9.

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