Virtual learning or snow day? Anne Arundel Co. to let superintendent decide

Anne Arundel County’s school board has voted to give the superintendent the flexibility to switch to virtual learning, rather than declare a snow day, when winter snow and ice could make it dangerous for students and teachers in the Maryland county to travel to school.

The plan would give Superintendent Mark Bedell the discretion to authorize synchronous learning, with teachers and students interacting live, virtually or to have asynchronous learning, where students work on assignments by themselves, at home. The virtual school day would be approximately four hours long.

Approved 6-2, the Virtual Day Instruction Plan, would only apply to the current school year, and would require the approval of the Maryland State Department of Education.

Bedell and other proponents of the plan said having the ability to teach virtually can help avoid having to extend the school year, if too many snow days are taken. County schools have three snow days built into the current school calendar. The school year is scheduled to end June 16.

Under state guidelines, school systems can use a total of eight days of virtual learning, either synchronous or asynchronous, but no more than three of those eight days can be students working by themselves on prepared lessons.

One of the two “no” votes came from Zach McGrath, the student member of the school board.

“Students came up to me and said they would rather just miss school all together than engage in a virtual day,” said McGrath. “They want to have that day off. They want to have a day in the middle of the year when they can just forget about school for a little bit, be a kid.”

Other concerns about the plan surrounded inconvenience to teachers and families, who would have to quickly come up with child care to accommodate a day of virtual learning. Some children also might not have access to the internet during bad weather.

Bedell told the board he has heard the concerns: “If we know there’s going to be a significant amount of snow, I think we’ll make the right decision.”

However, Bedell said having the option for a shortened virtual day during inclement weather will ultimately pay off.

“We can get our instruction in, but also allow for students and families to be able to enjoy those weather days and also not put people in further hardship by extending the year.”

Discussion of the virtual day instruction plan begins at 2:36:45 into this video:

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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