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Freezing rain has school districts prepping for potential first traditional snow day in years

Hartford Union High School.png
Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 19:37:38-05

HARTFORD, Wisc. — The anticipated freezing rain overnight has school districts across southeastern Wisconsin figuring out how to pivot if the roads are deemed unsafe for in-person learning.

While some school districts, including Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), automatically switch to virtual learning during weather cancellations, several rural districts say they’re returning to old fashioned snow days for the first time since the pandemic began.

The Hartford Union School Districts says it won’t make a final decision until early Tuesday morning, but if roads are too slick, the district is ready for its first traditional snow day in years.

Snow days have been a Wisconsin school tradition for decades, but the switch to virtual learning during the first year of the pandemic proved to school districts that learning doesn’t have to only take place inside school buildings.

“I think it’s just better to go virtual, they all know what they’re doing,” said Tammi Ellis.

Ellis says she wants her two kids to learn online Tuesday if in-person classes are canceled due to winter weather.

“I wish they would just call it to being virtual tomorrow as in I don’t have time to find a babysitter tomorrow and I work from home so it’s easier for my kids to know what they’re doing ahead of time,” she said.

Parent Dialo Mosely of Milwaukee sees things differently.

“I think traditional snow days are needed,” he said. “Virtual learning, I’m kind of, ‘ehh’, because kids being at home a lot, it kind of takes away from the experience of being around other people in the school and stuff.”

Throughout the pandemic, a study by Education Week Research Center found that just 20 percent of school districts across the country stuck with traditional snow days. Thirty-nine percent of districts said they automatically switch to remote learning during weather events, according to the study.

Hartford Union School District in Washington County opted for virtual learning during every weather event last year, but the district decided it’s time for snow days to return in moderation.

“It’s been a while, the weather’s been really awesome this winter and it’s interesting that on February 22 this might be our first opportunity to take a look and see if it’s appropriate to not have school tomorrow,” said Superintendent Jeff Walters.

Superintendent Walters says his district now allows for one snow day each nine week grading period, which is what Tuesday would be if the weather is poor. Additional weather cancellations within that period would require a return to virtual learning to avoid extending the school year into summer.

“I think we learned a great deal from the pandemic, not only one that student learning and teaching can continue outside the four walls of a high school, but we also learned that our staff and our students need that mental break and so we’ve tried to find the right balance between the two of them and do both,” he said.

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Hartford Union is joined by Germantown, Juda, and Big Foot Union school districts to name a few that are bringing back traditional snow days.

Hartford Union is joined by Germantown, Juda, and Big Foot Union school districts to name a few that are bringing back traditional snow days. Big Foot Union School District in Walworth County says it isn’t prepared to pivot to virtual on a couple hours notice.

”It’s just whether or not kids have the internet at home, that’s really the tripping point,” said Superintendent Doug Parker. “If we knew we were going to be virtual for a long period of time, we would address that, we would have hotspots available and all that stuff.”

Several school districts say they have conference calls with the National Weather Service scheduled for 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to determine if the roads are safe for in-person learning.

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