Utah’s far and few between snow days could disappear during COVID-19

Education
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Utah (ABC4 News) —  If you grew up in Utah, you probably know snow days are a rarity. You might have stayed up to watch the weather, hoping for news of a snowstorm big enough to cancel school the next day…even if the day of canceled classes meant a shorter spring break, it was worth it for a day in the fresh snow. 

With new education protocols in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those cherished snow days might be even rarer.

Before the pandemic, snow days for district and charter schools were built into the schedule of each school year. 

Under old rules, Utah schools were required to provide 990 ‘instructional hours’ over 180 days of school. “In response to the coronavirus emergency, the Utah State Board amended the pupil accounting rule to allow for 990 hours of ‘educational services,’ giving teachers flexibility to continue offering instruction through distance learning whether that meant online or hand-delivered packages or other means,” says Mark Peterson, Public Relations Director for the Utah State Board of Education. 

Peterson says these new rules are not permanent. “The pupil accounting rule rewrite does have a sunset date of July 1, 2021, on it. The Board will review it this year to determine if the sunset should be kept, removed, or additional amendments made.” 

Peterson says these updated rules will allow schools to move their snow says to distance learning days, if not already distancing learning. “If the schools do that, there won’t have to be a make-up day later in the year to make sure a school gets to 180 days of instruction,” Peterson adds. 

In past years, if a snow day was used, a day was taken from a scheduled break throughout the school year. This year, snow days will be numbered because of the new rule brought on by the pandemic. “Because all teachers and students are familiar with distance learning, moving to distance learning can be done quickly and efficiently. Rules have also been rewritten to allow the movement,” Peterson says. 

It’s not uncommon for Utah students to go years without a snow day. With this year’s changes, it’s likely Utah students won’t see those anticipated days off at all. The decision for snow days is entirely up to the districts, Peterson adds. He says they can use the built-in days as they feel necessary without approval from the board. 

Peterson says the 2020 school year has been one of adapting. He says at the beginning of the pandemic the Utah State Board of Education staff digitally met frequently with both Utah school districts, charter schools, and other state education agencies to determine what bureaucratic obstacles had to be removed during a pandemic. He said decisions were made to keep teachers teaching, students learning, and school breakfast and lunch programs operating for those families who rely on them.

Peterson says the Board also worked closely with the Governor’s Office and Legislature to waive some state statutes to help schools. “The U.S. Department of Education also offered waivers from some federal laws that were an obstacle. The Board waived some rules and rewrote others to acknowledge the reality that exists in a pandemic,” Peterson adds.

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