HENRICO COUNTY, Va - The widespread use of virtual learning environments because of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an interesting question during winter storms: are the traditional “school snow days” going to become a thing of the past?
One of the largest school districts in the Richmond region, Henrico County, was the only local school district to continue with virtual learning, while other public school systems decided to shut down Monday.
Henrico closed all school buildings out of safety concerns with icy roadways, but the decision to continue on with a virtual school day led to hundreds of negative comments from parents and families on social media.
Many commenters echoing a similar sentiment that virtual learning has already stretched many students thin emotionally and not having a snow day added to that feeling.
Andy Jenks, the Director of Communications for Henrico Schools, has developed a following for his snow day announcements in the past.
He said Henrico Schools fully appreciated and understood many people disagreed with the decision.
“You can’t be the guy who’s known for snow days but not be the guy who’s known when you don’t call for a snow day. You got to take one with the other,” Jenks said.
Since the winter storm hit Sunday morning and temperatures hovered close to and above freezing into Monday, the timing of the whole situation played a major factor in the decision to close buildings but continue with virtual school, according to Jenks.
“If all of Sunday’s weather happened today, we would have called a snow day no question,” he said. “It should not go unnoticed that we do have students in a county as broad and diverse as Henrico is who benefit from the structure and support systems that are in place in school, even in the virtual environment.”
“Folks do believe that a version of supporting students is let them have a snow day. Let them enjoy the winter weather and the wonderland that’s out there. We understand that; we get that,” he continued.
School divisions across the country have stood up and supported virtual learning environments for months, and some systems in other states have made similar decisions to Henrico.
So does this signal the end of the traditional snow day?
“We do not think it means the end of the snow days. We already came out publicly back in December and said if the conditions call for it, we will absolutely call for a snow day,” Jenks said. “It is fair to say that we have the infrastructure set up to have school, to conduct virtual learning. That might not necessarily be what everyone wanted or was hoping for today, but we are trying to be as responsible and supportive as we can to a broad community that does expect us to be educating our students.”
Meanwhile in Chesterfield
On the hill next to Providence Elementary School in Chesterfield, a steady stream of students and families hit the slope on sleds and snowboards.
Chesterfield County, the largest school district in Central Virginia, closed completely Monday, even though most elementary school children were scheduled to return to buildings.
Keith Hechler, his daughter, and his grandson named Scotty were among the families out making memories.
“All the good times you had together as a family, especially right now with all the quarantines and everything going on,” Hechler said.
Scotty’s schooling has been on a laptop for nearly a year now, and had he had to log on Monday, the nine-year-old would have been “mad and angry.”
His grandfather said virtual learning will no doubt change some aspects of the traditional l snow day, but he does not see them ended altogether.
“I actually go to school for plumbing. If we have a snow day or whatever, we do virtual learning. I don’t think it will be a thing of the past because it’s still an abbreviated day,” Hechler said.
Jenks said Henrico County planned to analyze how the day went and see what changes they will make should winter weather rear its head in again in the months to come.