2022 | Schools

MCPS considering ditching snow days for virtual classes

Approach would limit need for make-up days, district says

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Armed with a virtual option that’s been used for almost two years, Montgomery County Public Schools is considering doing away with snow days. Instead, when inclement weather strikes, the district would shift to virtual classes to avoid missing instruction.

MCPS outlined the plan briefly in a message to community members Thursday night, launching a new survey to gather feedback about the idea.

The goal, the message said, would be to avoid the instability of having to make up missed days later in the year.

To some, the consistency in the school calendar and fewer missed days is appealing. But others have criticized the district, saying it shouldn’t take away the joy students find in an unexpected day off.

Others have more serious objections. There could be inequities, advocates have said, in access to the internet or other services. There could also be problems with young students bringing their supplies back and forth to school. Some have questioned if a district as large as MCPS — with nearly 160,000 students and 209 schools — can successfully pivot to virtual classes with such little notice.

MCCPTA President Cynthia Simonson wrote in a text message that there was a meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon between PTA leaders from across the county and MCPS administration to discuss the idea.

This is not the first time MCPS has broached the idea of using its virtual platform on inclement weather days.

In September 2020, then-Superintendent Jack Smith said “there is no excuse ever again to have to make up a snow day.” Some school board members agreed with him at the time, but more formal conversations did not develop.

When the pandemic shuttered school facilities in March 2020, Smith lamented the district’s lack of technology available to students. Smith, in his fourth year with the district, said it was “inexcusable” that students did not have laptops to take home with them, saying it created inequities for students to continue learning outside of the classroom.

Since then, MCPS has become a one-to-one district, meaning each student is assigned their own laptop from the district, which they are allowed to take to and from school, even after the pandemic passes.

Each year, the school board develops the next academic calendar with several “make-up” days in anticipation of emergency closures due to snow or other weather emergencies. Those make-up days, if used, usually cut into spring break or lengthen the academic year.

Maryland school districts are required to provide at least 180 days of instruction each academic year.

So far this school year, MCPS will be tasked with making up three days used for snow days, which all happened in January.

A district spokesman wrote in an email on Friday morning that the decision about how to make up the days will be made “soon.”

The academic calendar lists 12 possible make-up days, but two have already passed, and MCPS has said Feb. 1 will not be used.

The other possible days are: April 1, April 11, April 12, May 2, June 16, June 17, June 20, June 21 and June 22.

The last day of school is scheduled to be June 15.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com