Snow Days No More: Certain Iowa School Districts Using Virtual Learning Days for Inclement Weather

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Traditional snow days are gone for some school districts in Iowa. West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) notified families last week that this year, rather than cancel school on severe winter weather days, they instead will shift to 100 percent virtual learning.

“This [pandemic] has forced us to think differently and to think outside the box for solutions,” Laine Mendenhall-Buck with WDMCS said. “This is a benefit, if there is benefit, to everything we have gone through in the last eight months.”

“We are considering how we can best support our students or families and our staff. These virtual days help continue that learning and not have a large gap. So while we don’t know if this would be a model we would use in future years, we do look forward to having this be a learning experience for us, and then determine maybe this is a new normal.”

Mendenhall-Buck said students already are supposed to be bringing their laptop and materials home with them every day, so switching to online learning during a severe weather day would be seamless. This would only happen on full snow days. Early outs or late starts would be the same as in past years.

The virtual snow days prevent two things for WDMCS. One, there’s no longer a gap in learning. Secondly, they won’t be making up school days all the way into the summer. That’s something Estherville-Lincoln Central (ELC) found to be a positive when they switched to virtual snow days over two years ago.

“In northwest Iowa you could go two or three days without having school, but yet kids could still use that time and teachers can still use that time to continue education. It was a great way for us to try and think about what does it look like to be virtual, not knowing anything about the pandemic coming,” Superintendent Tara Paul said.

Paul said while the fun of traditional snow days is gone, when they chose to do virtual snow days, kids overall like it.

“Everybody really likes a snow day and the idea of the virtual day was fun at first, but then when the students realize, ‘oh wait a minute, I have homework that I have to get to,’ or ‘oh wait a minute, I can’t just go out and play in the snow.’ So some of those things come to reality. But then when you say ‘yes, but by June 1st, you’re going to be out. Would you rather go to school now or in June?’ That starts to play a part and they say ‘OK, yeah, I’d rather go to school now.’ So it’s a mindset shift,” Paul said.

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