N.S. schools to apply for authority to use virtual learning in place of some ‘snow days’


NORTH SMITHFIELD – Those who grew up prior to technological advances that made online education commonplace likely remember it well: the excitement surrounding a day where nasty weather could offer freedom from the obligations of a classroom – with time to be filled by hours of sledding, snowball fights or the building of various igloos and snowmen.

For kids today, virtual education has the potential to replace that winter fun with time spent staring at a computer screen.

But for students attending North Smithfield schools, it seems, the joy of a, “snow day,” isn’t a thing of the past just yet.

Supt. Michael St. Jean asked members of the North Smithfield School Committee this month for permission to apply to the Rhode Island Department of Education for the authority to utilize virtual learning to keep classroom education on track when winter weather presents obstacles.

Online education, however, won’t be the, “go to,” plan at this town’s public schools, he said.

“This is only for something well known in advance,” St. Jean said, pointing to blizzards that educators see coming well in advance, or cases where a particularly nasty winter has already extended the school year well into June. “We’re just putting it out there as an option.”

The superintendent’s request follows a poll in which 882 parents and teachers in the district weighed in on the issue, and nearly 80 percent indicated they’d prefer to have the option to go virtual.

When North Smithfield schools do dedicate a day to virtual learning, teachers will utilize technology that became familiar to students nationwide during the pandemic, teaching their class online from the comfort of home. In Rhode Island, schools now have rules governing online learning laid out by state education authorities.

St. Jean noted that the district must submit a detailed application to RIDE for the authority to utilize the virtual option, and have a pre-approved plan.

“We can’t just switch over into virtual snow days as we wish,” he said. “RIDE has criteria around that – how many hours, and what qualifies as a virtual instruction day.”

School Committee member Jean Meo pointed out that the North Smithfield school district had the technology in place, and was ready to implement such virtual snow days prior to the pandemic.

“We had a plan ready to go and the state wasn’t ready for us,” she said.

Some snow days, St. Jean said, will remain traditional, with online instruction only used in a, “worst case scenario.”

“It’s just to have this in our bag,” he said, noting the option can prevent an abundance of “make up days,” at the end of the year that extend into summer. “After the last calendar day of school, there’s just not the best learning happening.”

St. Jean noted that when he declared an official no-strings-attached snow day last year, he instructed families to get outside, noting that every kid should get hit with a snowball.

“Yes, we need those,” he said of unexpected winter breaks for carefree fun.

Committee members voted unanimously to give St. Jean the authority to submit an application for virtual snow days with RIDE.

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  1. More time off for the union teacher on the taxpayers dime with the awful test scores. The Superintendent should make the teachers teach until the last day of school so we get the most value for our hard earned tax dollars and we actually educate our children. And if the Superintendent does not his job or union complains we get rid of the Superintendent and the beast union. It also always amazes me that we can show up to practice football in the summer but god forbid we suggest some actual learning in the summer which is the reason we build the school in the first place.

  2. The polls were sent to parents through email. I would rather have a virtual day instead of students having to attend more days into June. There is a greater chance the students will learn something on a virtual day rather than at the end of the year. Once June rolls around all teaching has stopped and the students are preparing for tests. (assuming there are any)

  3. I remember going to school when it snowed they put chains on the buses and all the teachers showed up give them the day off must have been teachers voting

  4. Haven’t we learned that virtual learning does not work. Another Union concession so teachers can work less. Just look at the last RICAS test scores in math according to the RIDE assessment data portal. In 2020-2021 only 36.1% of the students are meeting or exceeding expectations. That years number is down from 50.3% in 2018-2019. That means that 50% of the students are failing. I think the Superintendent needs to reassess the mission of education instead of the wishes of employees.

  5. Could someone explain exactly how parents were polled? Were paper polls sent home with students or sent directly to parents by email? What was the number of parents who were for virtual learning snow days and the number against using virtual days?


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