Snow days these days aren't what they used to be

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Lauren McAuliffe sets her 22-months-old son Miles down to walk in the snow during winter storm weather in Windsor Township, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As if the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't brought enough challenges for schools, now there's another hurdle for local districts to consider: Whether or not to call a snow day.

With the heavy snowfall across York County this week, all but one of the county's 16 school districts operated with remote learning instead of canceling classes. 

South Western School District was the only district in the county to cancel classes, while the remaining districts closed their buildings but had their students and staff work from home.

Timothy Williams, superintendent for York Suburban School District, said if his district canceled classes, they would have had to add an extra day to the end of the school year to make up the time. The district currently operates under a hybrid model, where students are normally in the classroom two days a week. 

More:York County storm: Heaviest snowfall is yet to come

More:'A long two days': Major storm pummels Northeast with snow

Under state law, Pennsylvania schools are required to hold at least 180 days of classes in a school year. Some school districts shortened their school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more difficult to meet the requirement, but Williams said York Suburban is operating under a normal schedule for the year. 

A portion of the Pennsylvania school code — which Williams said he didn't know existed until last year — allows districts more flexibility in their instruction during emergencies, including a pandemic. The code allowed York Suburban to teach students from home Monday instead of cancelling classes. 

Before the pandemic, districts could still hold a limited number of school days under remote learning in the event of heavy snowfall or other circumstances. Williams said the days are called "flexible instruction days," and districts are allowed up to five days each school year that must be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

Other York County school districts commonly used flexible instruction days, Williams said, but York Suburban just applied for them for the first time last year. Though the department approved the days, he said his district has not used them because of the pandemic. 

Williams could not confirm that York Suburban plans to use flexible instruction days in the future to continue remote learning during snow days, but he said there is a "strong likelihood" the district will take that option. He said using flexible instruction days will help ensure the district ends the school year on schedule. 

"That's a distinct possibility," Williams said. 

For other districts, like the Dover Area School District, the decision is more difficult. District spokesman Bradly Perkins said canceling classes for a snow day will force the district to add a day to the end of the year, but with Dover bringing in a new superintendent next school year, it is hard to know what the administrators will decide. 

"When it comes to making the decision for a snow day or virtual day, districts are in a no-win situation," Perkins said in an email. "Someone is bound to be upset."