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Schools districts discuss using remote learning in place of some snow days

One school system has reworked their snow day system which will introduce remote learning for some days when in-person learning isn't an option.

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) has announced changes to how the district will handle snow days ahead of the winter storm season. 

According to a letter from PWCS, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted student learning and staff must use most of the time they have to provide proper instruction to students.

"As such, we want to minimize any closures due to weather and their impact on teaching and learning," the letter reads. "We have also made significant investments in technology support for our students, teachers, and staff."  

School officials say the investments will help staff instruct remotely when buildings cannot be open for in-person learning. 

With the help of remote learning, the district has introduced "Code Orange," which will be used when weather conditions are marginal and impact roadways or sidewalks but are not so bad it causes "substantial impacts." 

During Code Orange, school buildings will not be open but employees will work remotely and students will work asynchronously. Teachers will provide office hours for students to check-in as needed. 

"This will enable teachers to grade assignments, provide additional planning time, and for employees to attend remote professional development, and business operations to continue," said officials.

School officials say Code Orange could also be used in place of delayed openings. 

"Due to the ongoing national shortage of bus drivers, PWCS continues to have a number of double and triple bus runs," the letter reads. "These runs make it logistically impracticable to have delayed openings."

"Code Red" will be used on days with significant weather impacts, which will close all schools and operations. This code will be used on days where the weather could cause power or internet outages. 

Decisions on delays and closings will be made either the night before or no later than 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the possible closure. 

Prince William County parents expressed both approval and frustration with the new plan.

"I'm someone that believes that kids need snow days as well and need time off," one parent told WUSA9. "I'm a little disappointed that's the route we're going."

"As a parent, I'm fine with it," PWCS parent Janelle Anderson said. "I think the teachers more than anybody need the break, not the students."

Click here to read the full letter from PWCS. 

In Fairfax County, school officials said it will have five inclement weather days which could be used consecutively due to a single weather event or take place as individual events. FCPS can go virtual if possible to continue learning once those days have been used up. 

"We know that unanticipated weather events, or even anticipated weather events, cause operational issues," FCPS said in a statement. "We also know that this year we are currently dealing with strained operations including significant challenges with substitute teacher shortages."

Arlington Public Schools is taking a similar approach by using six inclement weather days, and reverting to full remote learning when they have been used. The superintendent told parents the plan before Thanksgiving to use the days as "snow days" to allow for continued learning and avoid "makeup" days at the end of the school year.

A Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson said moving the whole district to online learning during snow days can cause challenges. The LCPS student calendar has built in snow days without adding days to the end of the year, so closing school provides an easier option.  

"In bad weather, power outages may impact access to the internet, which in some parts of the county is already spotty," LCPS said. "In addition, some teachers would need to travel to their school buildings to get connected - which would not be possible in snow. In addition, on an instructional day, we are required to provide meals to everyone. Picking up those meals or delivering them would not be possible with severe road conditions."

WATCH NEXT: Crowd kicked out of Prince William County School Board meeting after arguments break out

The Prince William County school board meeting had to be temporarily cleared Wednesday night after arguments broke out between attendees and security.

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