Latest snowstorm proves school snow days aren't history yet
Some school districts move to e-learning day due to snow; some just cancel the school day
After a late-season snow dump on the lakes area last week, several school districts took advantage of the past year's distance learning experience to keep classes going while students remained safe at home. Pine River-Backus students, however, got to enjoy a good old-fashioned snow day Thursday, March 11.
"Pequot Lakes and Pillager decided to go e-learning," said Pine River-Backus Superintendent Jon Clark. "The state actually has, in statute, what are called e-learning days. There needs to be a plan submitted to them and parents must be notified that schools can move to that when appropriate.
"At this point, Pine River-Backus does not have one of those so we weren't able to just switch to e-learning or a distance learning day. That is something we will be working on moving forward so we can make adjustments like that," he said.
Even with that plan in place, snow days might not come to an end any time soon as students need a forewarning to be prepared to learn from home, and the state limits how many e-learning days a school can have.
"Right now, the statute does limit e-learning days to five," Clark said. "There is a limit on how many you can have. It won't necessarily eliminate the possibility of snow days. In the future, I think it will always depend on how prepared you are. During this pandemic a lot of kids have their devices going home and are set up so they can do distance learning when these things happen out of the blue.
"But during unforeseen snow conditions or ice conditions, kids might not have their devices with them, which will make it very challenging to have e-learning days," he said.
Clark said e-learning days are most likely in the future when the school district has an early forecast predicting inclement weather so teachers can tell students to bring their materials and devices home in case of an e-learning day. Less predictable shifts in weather might not offer the same option.
The National Weather Service in Duluth predicted the March 10-11 snowstorm across the state earlier last week, though the snowfall started later than anticipated. While the weather service predicted 4-6 inches of snow in most areas, the Pine River-Backus area saw up to 11 or more inches.
"We held off decisions until this morning," Clark said Thursday, March 11. "And originally we looked at the possibility of doing a two-hour late start. But as our transportation director and some of our drivers got onto the roads, we looked at the conditions and amount of snow we got up here as well as reports of trees over some roads, and we decided we probably better move to a cancellation."
Clark said once the school parking lots started to be plowed, they also discovered a layer of ice under the snow, further justifying their decision to cancel school for the day.
The Pequot Lakes School District, on the other hand, opted for an e-learning day once it was apparent that school buses would have a difficult time navigating certain roads within the district.
“I wanted to pull the trigger last night,” Superintendent Chris Lindholm said Thursday, March 11. “I thought there was no way our two-wheel-drive buses were going to plow through this stuff. The white, fluffy stuff is one thing, but you can’t with this greasy stuff.”
The "snow day" for Pequot Lakes students was similar to a “typical” school day in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with students learning remotely. Lindholm said the district opted for an e-learning day because the students were already familiar with the plans and processes of remote learning.
However, he would not rule out the possibility of a more traditional snow day returning once school is back to normal.
“I wouldn't say (e-learning on a snow day) is a hard-and-fast rule,” Lindholm said. “In our current year, it is a hard-and-fast rule, because of the statutory requirements on instructional hours and the way we shrunk our day-to-day with the pandemic. In the current year … we don’t have the ability to call a snow day. In years after this, that is a fair question.
“Might an occasional snow day be appropriate? Yes. However, another lens is why would we not teach and learn if we can and have the systems and capability to do it?” he said.
Lindholm agreed future snow-day learning may be predicated on whether the district could see it coming, and therefore give students ample warning to bring their materials home with them. Due to the nature of the current school year, students are encouraged to bring all materials home on a daily basis.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.
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