By Tom Tolen /

The question has been raised as to why school districts don't go virtual during snow day periods so that teaching and learning can continue unabated. While the majority of school districts in the Livingston County and the surrounding area were closed again last Friday, marking the third snow day in a row, none of them had virtual learning going on during those three days.

There’s no question that kids enjoy having snow days, but could the time be better used by holding virtual classes on those days so the students could continue their instruction — only at home instead of school. Howell Public Schools Superintendent Erin MacGregor tells WHMI that when a snow day is imminent, it’s not a simple matter of informing teachers they’ll be teaching virtually and communicating that fact with students via e-mails, phone calls and texts. He says since the remote devices of elementary level students are kept at the schools, on short notice there would be no way to get the devices in the hands of the students.

The problem with snow days, MacGregor says, is that school officials usually have little lead time of when a snowstorm is imminent, and the lack of adequate notice makes virtual learning logistically impossible.

In the Brighton Area Schools District, last Wednesday and Thursday were snow day but the kids were back in the classroom on Friday. Brighton Superintendent Matthew Outlaw says a transition time of at least a day is needed to go from in-person to virtual instruction. He says, "This allows teachers to shift their lessons, but also allows for a host of administrative matters such as preparing devices, ensuring access, and having the necessary learning materials."

To change to virtual, Outlaw says, “a transition time is needed of at least a day. Most snow days are called late in the evening or early morning hours, which does not allow for enough transition time.” Outlaw adds that going to virtual is practical only when school officials know well in advance that it’s going to be a “multi-day event."

MacGregor says Howell has only used up half of the six snow days allowed by the state, but if it gets up to six snow days, they’ll consider going virtual, since school districts are required by the state to have a minimum of 180 days of instruction, totaling 1,098 hours, per year.

Looking at it from a different perspective, Outlaw says that while his district “value(s) instructional time greatly, snow days are also something fun that students look forward to every year." He says, “In a time that is so serious for our children, I would hate to take away the joy and innocence that comes from a snow day or two.”

Photo: Huron-Clinton Metroparks