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Virtual classes still subject to snow days

Predictions of snow, rain and ice Wednesday prompted a wave of warnings and schools closures Tuesday, canceling virtual classes and meal delivery programs.

The National Weather Service is predicting snow, rain, sleet and ice to fall across Central Virginia Wednesday. The winter storm warning kicks in at 7 a.m. and is set to expire at 4 a.m. Thursday.

Although virtual classes haven’t spelled the end of the fabled snow day in some schools, area school divisions are taking different approaches to snow days this year. Albemarle County and Charlottesville school divisions have called off classes entirely while others suspended online class meetings but told students to work on assignments.

“On the surface, online learning would seem to make snow days obsolete but in practice, it is just as vulnerable to the disruptions from adverse weather as is in-person instruction,” county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said.

For example, teachers have been going to school buildings to use the internet and their classrooms for online instruction. Students also might have to travel to connect to the internet. Albemarle County switched to all-virtual classes this week as a precaution amid rising COVID-19 case numbers.

“In the event of unsafe road conditions, these teachers and students would be unable to reach schools to participate, creating inequities in the ability of students to access the curriculum,” Giaramita said.

Additionally, if the road conditions are too dangerous, school buses wouldn’t be able to deliver meals.

Meteorologists with the weather service said in the warning to expect “heavy mixed precipitation.” Two to four inches of snow and sleet could accumulate along with about a quarter-inch of ice.

Expect snow from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. before the snowflakes morph into sheets of sleet and freezing rain in the early afternoon.

Power outages and tree damage are likely because of the ice, and travel could be nearly impossible, according to the warning. Hazardous conditions could affect morning and evening commutes.

Charlottesville City Schools has said it was planning to have snow days this school year when necessary, despite the fact that most students are learning online. Some in the special education program have started to come into the buildings for assistance.

Wednesday’s city School Board was pushed from Wednesday to Thursday because of the closure. The board was set to vote on a reopening plan that would restart in-person classes in mid-January. The board has discussed that plan in several meetings in the last two months. The virtual meeting will now start at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said closing schools would give clear guidance to individual students coming into schools for services as well as virtual learning centers that have partnered with the division.

Plus, snow days are fun and play is important, Cheuk said.

Giaramita said that adverse weather conditions often lead to a loss of power in parts of the county, which would eliminate access to online classes for groups of students.

As in past years, the school divisions take into account a number of factors including the safety of roads for school buses and conditions of school parking lots and sidewalks in making the call to close.

The Piedmont Family YMCA, which runs virtual learning centers at Walker Upper Elementary and at the Brooks Family facility, hadn’t announced by press time whether those centers would be closed. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Virginia follows the decisions of local schools. The clubs have operated several virtual learning programs this year to support families.

In Greene County, students and teachers were told not to report to school on Wednesday. However, the division said on social media that students should complete asynchronous, or independent, learning activities.

Fluvanna County Public Schools said on social media that Wednesday would be a remote learning day for students, postponing any online class meetings. School activities, sports and meal distribution were canceled. Although new class material won’t be assigned, students are expected to work on current projects and other classwork, the division said.

Louisa County Public Schools has told families that inclement weather would mean remote learning days for all students, meaning students will work independently. Students were encouraged to work on previously assigned material. Teachers wouldn’t hold live class meetings but would be responsive to student questions and concerns during the school day.

Next semester, Louisa County is planning to make the first three inclement weather days true snow days — no school for students or employees. After those three days, inclement weather will mean remote learning days.


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