NJ school admins want remote option for some snow days — not all
The remote learning setup necessitated by the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic may have made for a convenient discussion, but as colder weather settles in, the idea of learning from home during inclement weather days in New Jersey is not a new one.
Debating the ways the 180-day school calendar can still be maintained through a bad winter, without extending the year almost to July, goes back several years, according to Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
Traditionally, Bozza said, an official school day in New Jersey is constituted by an in-school presence, but that was clouded by the COVID-era stipulation that three or more days of a health emergency would allow virtual days to count.
Yet he said there are instances other than pandemics or bad snowstorms under which remote learning might be practical, such as the late-summer devastation brought by Ida, or flooding events throughout South Jersey and the barrier islands.
To have the option, not an outright requirement, to switch to remote learning when the buses can't run, is what an NJASA committee is working on presenting to legislators come January.
"First for the emergency days, due to inclement weather or flooding, for those kinds of emergencies, and then secondly, how might we use this productively in the interest of student learning going forward?" Bozza said.
Most New Jersey districts still do build snow days into their calendars, according to Bozza, but he wants to avoid the scheduling conflicts that arise when those spare days are burned off.
"We don't want to extend the school year, we've got graduations scheduled, we've got Project Graduations, you've got school staff members that have taken on other employment at the end of what they believe the school year will be, so there are a whole host of reasons," he said.
Bozza admits not everyone wants to use what were formerly snow days as instructional days, particularly the kids.
But he believes state lawmakers who look west to Pennsylvania will find a system that works there, and could work here.
"The remote option is usable after so many inclement weather days have been taken," Bozza said. "I think that's one that legislators would find acceptable."
As the NJASA proposal is set to be presented this winter, Bozza does not expect it to be approved and become blanket policy right away, but said it certainly could be in place for the 2022-23 school year.
"For most of our school districts, they wish that we had it in place at the beginning of January, when the real inclement weather starts to come, over January, February, or in March, but the legislature's not likely to move that quickly," he said.