For some schools, remote classes carry on through storm

Mackey

Despite their best efforts at tried-and-true snow day-summoning rituals — sleeping with a spoon under their pillow, wearing their pajamas inside-out or doing their best snow day dance — for students in some local districts, a snow day Thursday, Dec. 17, was not to be.

“We know the stress that remote learning put on parents, staff and kids from March until June, and when the state gave us the option to use snow days as remote instruction days, we decided to take advantage of it,” Unadilla Valley Central School District Superintendent Bob Mackey said.

In September, the New York state Department of Education issued a memo outlining a one-year snow day pilot program allowing public school districts to offer virtual instruction instead of canceling school altogether in the event of a snow emergency.

Mackey said Unadilla Valley made the decision in October to forgo snow days after consulting with the district’s various employee unions and the school board.

In lieu of traditional snow days, the district added two emergency days to Thanksgiving break, making it eight days long instead of five, Mackey said. The four remaining emergency days will be used to create a four-day weekend in March and a five-day weekend in May for Memorial Day.

“We’ve asked for no assignments or grading during those breaks as a trade-off,” Mackey said. “We thought it was really important to look at mental health and to build in time for self-care. It’s that caring for each other that’s really important right now.”

Unatego Central School also required its students to engage in remote instruction Thursday.

“We decided to take advantage of the state’s offer on a limited basis,” district Superintendent Dave Richards said. 

Out of the six emergency days built into the district’s 2020-2021 calendar, Unatego opted to require remote learning for three of them, Richards said. Students are expected to attend a second day of virtual classes Friday, Dec. 18, in light of the heavy snowfall.

Younger students are expected to spend no more than an hour and a half engaged in virtual learning, while older students may spend two to three hours in front of a screen, Richards said.

Despite starting the school year virtually in September, when the greater Oneonta area was still contending with the fallout from the COVID outbreak at SUNY Oneonta, Richards said the district did not use any of its allotted emergency days.

“At the height of cold and flu season in the middle of a pandemic, we thought it would be best if everybody stayed home for a week in February,” Richards said. “We’re going to need a mental health break by then.”

Administrators in other districts encouraged their students to go out and embrace the winter weather.

“Everybody is running on empty trying to pull off education during this time of COVID,” Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District Superintendent Tim Ryan said. “I just thought it was too much.”

Many teachers stream their virtual lessons from the classroom, Ryan said, but would not have had access to school buildings Thursday or Friday given the volume of snow.

Friday, Dec. 18, will be another snow day for students and staff, Ryan said. Depending on how many emergency days are necessary this year, the district may opt for virtual learning in the future.

“Our community just needed a good old-fashioned snow day. We thought everyone just needed a break and not to have to worry about education for a day,” said Sidney Central School District Superintendent Eben Bullock. “We as a district made the decision early on that snow days would be traditional ones. There’s a tradition with snow days — sleigh riding, hot chocolate — that has value.”

In a Wednesday, Dec. 16 letter to Schenevus students and families, district Superintendent Theresa Carlin gave simple instructions: “don’t do any schoolwork,” and “take this first snow day to just enjoy the snow!!!”

“We already made the decision that no matter when or how much snow we got, the first snow day would be an actual snow day,” Carlin told The Daily Star on Thursday. “So much has already been taken away from everyone, especially our kids, I felt like I needed to tell them to close their Chromebooks, put everything away and go outside.”

Carlin asked students, parents and staff to submit photo “evidence” of their snow day endeavors for a district-wide contest Thursday.

Osborne siblings Samantha and Allen, grades 10 and 7, sent a photo of themselves on their four-wheeler, armed with a shovel and ready to help dig out neighbors in need. Kindergartener Emmett Kortekaas made snow angels in his yard, and Dawn St. Clair, a teacher's aide, helped deliver a litter of puppies. Social studies teacher Matt Gregory shared a video performance of “Let it Snow” on piano, and Brooke and Alexandria Lincoln, grades 9 and 11, took Gabby the goat for a sled ride.

“One parent told me that her child went out and played in the snow more today than in the past five years,” Carlin said. “It made my whole day.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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