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APS may soon revert to virtual learning on snowy, icy days

Wakefield High School in the snow (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Snow this week has nearly wiped out Arlington Public Schools’ snow days for the winter.

Two months ago, APS modified its winter weather plans to include six traditional “snow days,” in which school is completely canceled, followed by distance-learning days.

Snow overnight and this morning — coupled with Monday’s storm and fallout — resulted in a full five days home from school for APS students and staff this week. That means APS has one more snow day before reverting to virtual learning for future winter weather-related closures.

Virtual learning during winter weather is new for the school system, which, due to the pandemic, was fully virtual for the majority of students and staff for most of the 2020-21 school year.

The new policy will “allow learning to continue and avoid ‘makeup’ days at the end of the school year,” APS said when it announced the changes.

The six-day threshold is based on the number of days built into the current calendar for inclement weather, it said.

A pandemic-era innovation, virtual learning for bad weather is being implemented in a smattering of school systems across the U.S., but the Washington Post reports that Arlington and Fairfax County Public Schools kept some snow days to retain “some sense of normalcy.”

Alexandria City Public Schools was one of the only D.C.-area schools to start the snowy week with virtual learning, a change some bemoaned as the end of the snow day. But there were widespread internet outages and today (Friday), students and staff got their proper snow day.

APS, meanwhile, closed schools closed Monday through Thursday due to Monday’s storm and its effects. It had planned to return kids to school on Thursday but reversed course because many teachers and staff were dealing with child care challenges.

Arlington Parents for Education — a parent group that has advocated for full-time, in-person learning during the pandemic — used this week’s closures to renew its call for APS to align its calendar with that of neighboring Fairfax County Public Schools.

Snow days and virtual learning are a few ways APS can respond to winter weather. It can also delay start by two hours, release early and cancel after-school and weekend activities.

Sports and other extracurricular activities are already canceled until Friday, Jan. 14 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, a decision that frustrated many parents and students.

The surge occurred among athletes, too, with more than 140 positives reported in a 10-day period late last month, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the School Board during its meeting last night (Thursday), which was held virtually.

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