School districts examine end of ‘snow days’

BUFFALO — The days of Johnson County students building snowmen with their friends or drinking hot chocolate on the couch during a snow day may soon be coming to an end.

That's because Johnson County School District No. 1 administrators are working on a plan that could have those students learning virtually instead of missing a day or two of school due to winter weather.

District Superintendent Charles Auzqui said administrators are still working on the details of the plan — which he hopes to have in place in the next month — to make sure that the quality of education received on those days would be up to in-school standards and would be accessible to all students.

"In my point of view, we don't want to just say, 'Hey, we're having (school) today so we don't have to make it up,'" he said. "If we're truly doing virtual education remotely, then it has to be quality education.”

Auzqui said each school's administrators have been working to figure out how to best make virtual snow days work for their schools and that he is preparing to bring the conversation about virtual snow days to the school board for its consideration.

But the potential snow day plan is not just a Johnson County plan, Auzqui said. It is actually being explored by a number of districts throughout the state — including some, like his previous district of Sheridan County School District No. 3 — that had virtual snow day plans written last year.

The logistics of at-home learning on a snow day could be tough, however, especially in the event of a winter storm that doesn't give enough notice to send devices home or notify parents of the change in the day's learning. Auzqui said that, so far, the district's draft plan says that parents must be notified at least 16 hours in advance of the potential virtual snow day and Chromebooks must be sent home with all students the day before.

But other outside factors that the district can't control could also play a role in whether students are learning on snow days.

“There's so many factors you have to take into (account),” Auzqui said. “On a winter snow day, is power going to be down, are they going to have access?”

Auzqui said that he also understands concerns that taking away snow days could be seen as taking away fun for county students, but he said not having snow days also means not having to potentially have makeup days that stretch into summer.

"It's the fun of snow days for students, but on the other hand, it's taking away the fun in June when they could be outside, when it's 70 degrees," he said.

In addition, Auzqui said, having the ability to have students learning on snow days instead of at the end of the year gives teachers more of the required 175 days of educational time with students before state WY-TOPP assessments occur.

"Charles doesn't want to be recognized as the snowman hater,” Auzqui said. “If we can have an opportunity to continue education, we will. But, if it's not feasible, then we won't either.”