No, Del. McNamara Doesn’t Want to Take Your Snow Days.

By Amie Knowles

January 20, 2021

New snow days proposal gives districts an alternative, but doesn’t force remote learning days.

RICHMOND – In general, students and teachers alike look forward to some good old fashioned snow days. The surprise opportunity provides relaxation for some, fun activities for others and adds a twist to a state with mostly sunny winter days. There is a flip side to that, however. If a district goes through too many snow days, they have to make that time up at the end of the semester. Instead of getting out in May, that often pushes schools into June.

However, if House Bill 1790 becomes a law, that could change.

The bill calls for an amendment to § 22.1-98 of the Code of Virginia. Whenever severe weather conditions or other emergency situations make it impossible for classes to open, districts can declare an unscheduled remote learning day.

There’s one more key part. The schools could make this switch without losing any funding from the Commonwealth’s Basic School Aid Fund. Under the current Code, if a district’s in-person instruction days dip below 180, those schools could lose some state funding.

This proposal would remove that order. The caveat is that each school must provide equitable instruction opportunities to all students on an emergency remote learning day.

Learning opportunities for all

Equity was on Del. Mark Cole’s mind as he talked about the bill Monday in the House Education Committee. Cole noted that after he voted in favor of the bill in a prior subcommittee, people contacted him with concerns about the bill. He expressed the constituents’ fear that the change could put students that live in homes without high-speed internet at a disadvantage.

Del. Joseph McNamara, the bill’s patron, addressed the issue and noted that the Department of Education also expressed a similar concern.

“That’s why the bill has been modified and it specifically states that we need to provide instruction and services that are comparable to the instructions and services that would exist in an actually-present learning day,” McNamara said.

The modification requires school divisions to provide an established, unscheduled remote learning day plan. The plan ensures equitable learning for every student in the school.

The patron also noted that the equity offering takes services, like the school meal program for example, into consideration.

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg also asked for clarification on the equitable offerings on remote learning days.

“If I remember correctly, the law was written in a way that says the localities can’t do this unless they’ve done this, unless they’ve done ‘Y.’ Like, they can’t do ‘X’ until they’ve done ‘Y,’” VanValkenburg said. “Like, they can’t have the day unless they’ve provided the adequate backstop for children.”

He received confirmation that his observations were correct.

RELATED: Bill Would Change How Virginia Schools Provide Healthcare

Districts Make the Call For Snow Days

Del. Jeffrey Bourne questioned whether or not the bill would make remote learning days in a weather-related or emergency situation an option or a requirement. He expressed concern over the tedious work divisions perform when laying out their schedule for a fiscal school year.

“A lot of times, they spend a lot of time and wring their hands a lot over developing their school calendar,” Bourne said. “And so is this a tool in their toolbox or are we saying that they must do this?”

McNamara noted that the bill allowed school divisions to make their own decision.

“It is completely optional on the school system and it’s really borne out of the COVID-19 crisis,” McNamara said.

At the beginning of the pandemic in Virginia, schools across the commonwealth shuttered their doors. Some localities struggled more than others and some continue to struggle with equitable educational offerings. However, the patron expressed that schools overall were “very successful in the virtual learning process.”

The bill would not mandate that schools switch to a remote learning option if buildings closed for a day. However, it provides that option with certain equitable boundaries.

“This will give them the opportunity not to shut schools down when it snows, or not to do virtual learning when it snows the first day, but if there’s multiple days where students are out of school,” McNamara said.

Staying on Track

The patron expressed that the option could stave off an extension to the end of the school year, due to divisions not meeting the required 180 instructional days because of closures throughout the year.

“Currently, they’re going to add those school days at the end of the calendar, typically, to make sure that they do not lose their state funding,” McNamara said. “That option still exists, but this gives them the simple option of allowing them to continue that learning process.”

McNamara further noted that remote instruction during the school year could be more meaningful than tacking days onto the end of the school year after the assessment tests already took place.

HB1790 passed the House Education Committee with a vote of 22 to 0. Over the next two days, it went through a first and second reading in the House. It will go before the full House for a third reading and vote on Thursday.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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