The weekend snow didn’t mean cancelled school for McHenry County students, but snow days, if they do happen this winter, may look different at many school districts than they did even a few years ago.
With remote learning a familiar setting for parents, students and teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, some McHenry County school districts now favor remote learning on days the snow and cold is too much to venture out to school.
Huntley School District 158, Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 and Marengo Union Elementary School District 165 all will have remote school on days with inclement weather.
Part of the decision comes from how easy it is to transition students into remote learning for a day.
“It’s not that big of a jump for our students to access that,” said Erika Schlichter, assistant superintendent for secondary curriculum and learning at Huntley School District 158.
Teachers in District 158 already put much of their class material online, Schlichter said.
“We have been a district that has had one-to-one technology for years prior to the pandemic,” she said.
Remote learning on snow days was already beginning before the pandemic. In 2019, state lawmakers passed a law allowing school districts to use remote learning days instead of a snow day.
Other districts are sticking with the traditional day off of school and building in five emergency days to be tacked on to the end of the year. Prairie Grove School District 46, Fox River Grove School District 3, Harrison School District 36, Nippersink School District 2, Harvard School District 50 and Cary School District 26 all will use snow days and associated emergency days this year.
Other school districts plan to use a mix of snow days and remote learning.
McHenry School District 15 Superintendent Josh Reitz said they have a plan for remote learning when it snows, but are leaning toward using traditional snow days. He said they want to make sure families have enough advanced notice if the district plans to use a remote learning day.
“As an elementary school district, we see the likelihood of using an e-learning day as being rare and more likely to be used in times when we could anticipate lengthy or extended closures,” Reitz said in an email.
McHenry High School District 156 also will be weighing the issue of advanced notice. In a November letter to parents, Superintendent Ryan McTague said if the district will have remote learning if the cancellation is made a day in advance, but will use a snow day if the decision is made the morning of.
Woodstock School District 200 is taking a hybrid approach. After the district uses two snow days, the remainder of the year’s snow days will instead be remote learning days.
“It’s those long cold snaps that come to mind because you’re not talking about one or two days, you’re talking about four or five days in a row often times,” said District 200 school board President Carl Gilmore at a the December board meeting. “I can see where we don’t want to just stop instructing for a week.”
The District 200 school board’s initial vote to get rid of snow days failed and board members compromised on the hybrid plan.
“I think with everything the kids have been through, call me old fashioned, but I think the kids need [snow days],” District 200 board vice president Jacob Homuth said.
The overall goal for school districts is to balance learning with time off.
“For us, the important thing is to say we want to navigate that situation in a way that’s least disruptive to learning,” Schlichter said.
Even though remote learning is a familiar setting because of the pandemic, it’s difficult to say one way or another if snow days are a thing of the past.
“It’s not just snow,” Schilchter noted for the reason school use emergency days.
School are able to take time off in the event of any inclement weather. District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan said his impression of snow days in recent years is that they’re more often for extreme cold and not so much snow.
“I love calling snow days. It’s the fun part of my job,” Moan said. “Kids love it. Go out build a snow man. Have snowball fights. That doesn’t happen when it’s -39 degrees wind temperature.”
Update: This article has been corrected to reflect that Harvard School District 50 will use traditional snow days this year, not remote learning.