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Massachusetts Nixes Virtual Learning on Snow Days

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has decided that remote learning will no longer count toward a district’s minimum required structured learning time, having tried it for the 2020-2021 school year.

(TNS) — In 2021, some Massachusetts students had virtual learning from home instead of traditional snow days.

But that’s no longer allowed.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said that no matter the situation, remote learning no longer counts toward a district’s minimum required structured learning time.

When DESE did allow it, many schools were already remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The choice, DESE said at the time, was only available for the 2020-2021 school year.

Former Gov. Charlie Baker had long been a proponent of in-person learning.

“The rules here are pretty simple — we count in-person school as school,” Baker said in the middle of the 2021-2022 school year.

At the time, some schools were looking to close due to the increase of COVID cases and staff shortages. Baker said those schools can treat it like a traditional snow day then but would not be allowed to count remote learning as a typical school day.

“If a school district’s not open at some point over the course of the year, they can use snow days, until they run out of snow days,” he said. “But they do need to provide their kids with 180 days of in-person education this year.”

Some schools across the country, however, were having remote learning options on snow days prior to the pandemic.

A 2016 study led by David Hua, associate professor of computer technology at Ball State University, suggested “that virtual learning days serve as an option school districts can implement that may avoid the negative impact school cancellations can have on student learning outcomes.”

“I believe it will become more commonplace, especially as our young society becomes more enmeshed in finding answers online,” Hua told EdTech in 2019. “It’s natural for students.”

Since then, the pandemic forced schools across the U.S. to test remote learning options. And while most students are back in-person, remote options began popping up in new ways.

In Massachusetts, some permanent virtual schools began opening, including in Springfield.

“I noticed, in teaching last year, that there were some students who really, really thrived during remote learning that maybe weren’t so successful in person. They didn’t have the distractions that they may have had in person, and they felt a little bit more comfortable and confident being at home,” said Joanne Anglade, an instructional leadership specialist for ELA and social studies.

And for schools outside the commonwealth, some are still using virtual learning options for snow days.

There is proposed legislation in Virginia that would end snow days in favor of remote learning, according to WUSA-TV. New Hampshire schools also sometimes opt for virtual learning, rather than snow days.

“The pandemic came, we did remote learning and we said ‘hey this is a great idea, we can use remote learning for weather-related issues,’” Dr. Dean Cascadden, superintendent of SAU 67 in Bow and Dunbarton, told WMUR.

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