Could distance learning make snow days a thing of the past?

Charles Molineaux
Created: October 13, 2020 07:06 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A water main break that flooded a West Irondequoit school could become the kind of emergency that prompts a quick switch to online learning for some schools.

Colebrook Elementary School closed on Tuesday because of the leak. Classes at the school could resume the next day because it had already been scheduled to go to online classes on Wednesday already as part of its coronavirus protocols. School leaders say future crises, especially snow emergencies, could quickly prompt a switch to remote classes.


That kind of transition was not an option when East Irondequoit schools dealt with its own water main rupture a year ago. 

"It was automatically ‘we are closed tomorrow.’ School is going to be closed because of that,” explained district spokesman David Yates. “We never really considered the fact that… Well, we could just flip a switch basically and do it remotely.”

As coronavirus has prompted school systems across the state to go with hybrid school and some, like Rochester, are still totally online, the state is suggesting more distance learning in case of bad weather.  

A letter from the education department last month announced a pilot program for snow emergencies in which schools can "pivot to remote instruction,” something many students and teachers have learned to manage during coronavirus lockdowns.

Now that we have developed somewhat of a cadence about how this works, I think will be easier for this particular group of students who have dealt with this since March to continue to see that as an opportunity on the days when they aren’t in school,” said Sherry Johnson, Executive Director of the Monroe County School Boards Associaton.

School leaders say a quick switch to remote learning in times of emergency may be possible with adequate preparation, but not necessarily in every snowstorm.

“If roads are impassable and families don’t have access to Internet because of the interruption due to a blizzard or any other snow event, it may not be practical,” cautioned Johnson. “It may be an opportunity on some emergency days but not in others.”

The Greece School Board is planning a look at its snow days plan later this month.

Dave Yates with East Irondequoit says his district is not ready for any instantaneous “pivoting” but in the future that might be a possibility with some advance notice from the weather forecast. 

“That could be an expectation,” he said. “‘Hey, there could be a snow day tomorrow so make sure you have your stuff ready to go, just in case you’re not here.’”

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