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Norwich school staff, families to be surveyed about snow days

Norwich — There’s no snow in the forecast, but Norwich schools Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow wants staff and parents to think about how they would like the school district to treat the next big storm.

The move to remote access learning during the COVID-19 pandemic also allows school districts to change their reaction to snow and ice storms by eliminating or reducing the number of traditional snow days in favor of fully remote learning days. One advantage to eliminating snow days would be an earlier summer vacation with no days tacked on in June.

Norwich has had only one traditional snow day thus far this winter, and Stringfellow said that storm might not have been suitable for a remote learning day, as strong winds were predicted that could have caused widespread power outages.

Stringfellow recently met with the various unions representing school staff to discuss whether to continue using traditional snow days or convert to virtual learning days. Responses were mixed, she said, and she now plans to conduct a simple survey of staff and parents on their preferences.

“The concept of having a make-up day in June, when so many more staff are vaccinated is good,” Stringfellow said, “but days in June are never popular. I don’t have a good sense of what they would prefer.”

With the state’s announcement earlier this week that vaccination Phase 1b has started, Norwich teachers and classroom support staff will be scheduled soon for inoculations against COVID-19.

William Priest, president of the Norwich Teachers’ League, said he preferred to hold off on commenting or offering his own preferences on virtual snow days until the survey results are received.

The concept of converting snow days to fully remote learning days would not have been possible during last spring’s initial COVID-19 shift to remote learning, Stringfellow said, because not enough students and staff had proper connections to learn or teach from home. State and federal grants, private grants and donations of equipment, internet connections and technical support for families have ramped up efforts to ensure all students and staff could shift to remote education this school year.

Another factor that Norwich teachers who have their own children enrolled in other school districts must consider is how those districts will treat snow days, Stringfellow said.

During traditional snow days, only district central office staff report in person. School staffs are asked to stay home to allow maintenance vehicles to clear parking lots and sidewalks. During heavy storms, when maybe 2 feet or more of snow is expected, central office also would be closed.

The specific forecast for each storm would have to be considered before deciding whether to cancel school for the day or call for remote learning. Strong winds and anticipated widespread power outages would disrupt remote learning plans, Stringfellow said.

“I’d like to do it before spring so I could try it out,” she said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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