Snow days could soon become something kids only hear about as hyperbole from their parents: “When I was your age, when it snowed too much, we got a day off to play.” With the rise of technology and growth of virtual learning that can reach even the most remote corners of Wyoming, snow days may be on the decline.
That’s because of a holdover COVID-era rule from the Wyoming Department of Education that allows school districts to call “temporary virtual education days” during events of inclement weather.
Although the rule changes were primarily brought in response to quarantine situations during the height of the pandemic, they also provide flexibility for districts to call for virtual learning classes instead of snow or “cold” days.
A virtual school day happens when class is taught to students by their teachers via computer at home.
Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder told Cowboy State Daily that 75% of Wyoming’s school districts already participate in the temporary virtual education policy requirements that allow them the discretion to determine when or if temporary virtual education days will be used.
A district must develop a board policy that meets the requirements of the Department of Education’s Virtual Education Rules. No school district is allowed to use more than 50% of their total days as virtual days.
“I think this is just another tool for districts to use to make sure that those needs of their students are met in their communities,” Degenfelder said. “It really provides a vast amount of flexibility for them to provide these temporary education days.”
Fewer Snow Days?
Clark Coberly, superintendent of Weston County School District 7, said the new rules allow his school district the flexibility to call for virtual days when it appears there will be multiple days of school canceled.
But they still didn’t stop his school district from canceling school Monday because of frigid wind chills that were as low as minus 45 in some parts of the district.
“First and foremost, on our minds is the safety of our students and staff,” Coberly said.
Weston District 7 serves communities in rural northeast Wyoming and operates on a four-day-a-week schedule. Coberly said his school district has no extra days built into the schedule this year, so every snow or cold day has to be made up at some point later in the year. Virtual days, however, count as a normal learning day.
“It gives us the extra option to still stay engaged with kids,” he said.
Park County School District 6 in Cody hasn’t called any snow days or virtual days this school year, but has one snow day built into its schedule.
Superintendent Vernon Orndorff said the district will have zero snow days built into its schedule next year and plan to lean on virtual learning days for most future inclement weather events to avoid extending the school year into late May or early June.
“It allows us to always keep our doors open next year and leverage that learning option,” he said.
But for many adults, the snow days they experienced as children represent some of their fondest memories. Orndorff said the district will take parental input into account when deciding which days to call for virtual learning, and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that snow days could still be called at some point.
In Person Still Preferred
Orndorff and Coberly said their districts will always prefer in-school learning and want to avoid virtual education days if possible.
“We feel that the best learning happens in school when students are face-to-face with their teachers,” Coberly said. “Virtual days are not a universal thing.”
Coberly also said his school district will still call for snow days and other weather-related cancellations if they appear to be short-lasting events.
But during longer storms and cold snaps, events in the past where Coberly said they “might not otherwise have any student contact” for long stretches of time, virtual days will now likely be the No. 1 option.
“Now, we have this flexibility to bridge the gap,” he said.
During the 2022/2023 school year, Weston 7 called two snow days and two virtual days, the latter of which Coberly said were well attended and successful.
Also impacted by the closures are school employees, many of whom have to take paid days off to receive compensation for a virtual or snow day.
Orndorff shares the same preference for in-school over virtual learning, but also stresses that virtual work will be growing within the future workforce.
“In the future, there will be more and more situations where people will be working virtually and we want to prepare our students for those opportunities,” Orndorff said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.