Snow Jan 16 2024

Mathilda, left, and William Elliott, of Lancaster city, get a push from their mother Catherine as the sled at Buchanan Park, in Lancaster city, on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024

Hempfield High School sophomore Lucas Mussmon stayed up later Monday night than he normally would, anticipating – in light of the winter weather forecast – a relaxing snow day.

He got what he was wishing for – kind of.

Hempfield School District was one of three Lancaster County school districts that didn’t have in-person classes due to snow Tuesday but operated under a virtual or flexible instruction day. The other 14 – including Octorara Area School District, which is in Chester County but serves families from Christiana and Sadsbury Township in Lancaster County – closed fully and had no classes at all.

When COVID-19 shuttered schools and created the need for widespread virtual instruction, families nationwide speculated that snow days may become a thing of the past. The excuse of inclement weather making it too challenging to shuttle kids into school seemed voided.

WINTER WEATHER: Snowy weather creates slippery road conditions, closes schools in Lancaster County [video]

Yet, despite their experience conducting virtual, online classes, most Lancaster County schools opted for a traditional snow day as road conditions became hazardous Tuesday. Schools that closed without virtual instruction cited many reasons, including a lack of internet access, difficulty duplicating specialized instruction, a need for parental guidance to very young students and the desire to let students enjoy playing in the snow. A few also pointed out the difficulties in going virtual for what was expected to be a short disruption in in-person instruction.

The three districts that opted for a flexible instruction day operated asynchronously, meaning students didn’t report at scheduled times for a virtual class but completed assignments independently.

Winter Snow 9.jpg

Bill Shelley plows the front lot at Pequea Elementary School on Millwood Road in Willow Street on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.

At Hempfield High School, Tuesday was the first day of a new marking period, so Mussmon participated in a few online icebreaker assignments to get to know his peers in new classes. Teachers, he said, couldn’t assign any assignments that took longer than 30 minutes to complete.

Most of his assignments took five minutes, he said, and he planned to be sledding in a friend’s backyard by afternoon.

Snow days are “a quintessential part of childhood,” said his mother Janene Mussmon.

Janene Mussmon said she likes that students have time to enjoy the snow and won’t have to make up the snow day later.

“They are young only once,” Janene Mussmon said. “Everybody has fond memories of just that unexpected break in your routine.”

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Flexible instruction days

All Pennsylvania public schools are required to have 180 instructional days in a school year and build five make-up days into their school calendar.

Hempfield was approved for up to five flexible instructional days instead of scheduling school make-up days, according to district spokesperson Kelly Burkholder.

In the Manheim Township School District, which also operated under a flexible instruction day, students can turn in work two days after they return to school, “which gives them the opportunity to balance time outside in the snow with time inside spent on school work,” said district spokesperson ShaiQuana Mitchell.

Elizabethtown Area School District declared a “Bears Virtual Learning Day” on Tuesday morning, meaning students there, too, would receive asynchronous instruction.

On its website, the district praises the flexibility of virtual learning days, noting that they “eliminate the need for ‘makeup days’ that are typically built into our schedule, and provide students, on inclement weather days, a chance to enjoy the snow due to the asynchronous nature of the work.”

The other 14 districts and the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center closed without virtual instruction.

Donegal School District Superintendent Michael Lausch said the district avoids using a virtual instruction day unless the weather event seems it’ll last multiple days. Lausch said the district wants to ensure students and teachers are prepared prior to a snow day and understands that it can be burdensome for caregivers or working parents to provide support with technology and classwork on a flexible instruction day.

Additionally, Lausch said the district believes students learn best when working with a teacher rather than independently.

“Sometimes kids just need to be kids and have a day to play in the snow instead of doing school work,” Lausch said.

Solanco Superintendent Brian Bliss said the district tries to exhaust its makeup days before using a virtual snow day because there’s a lack of internet access in some parts of the district, its youngest students need adult direction to complete virtual instruction and some special education students have specific, intensive programs that can be difficult to replicate virtually.

“Of course, for children, snow days can also be for sledding and building snowmen,” Bliss said.

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