READING - Reports about the demise of the snow day in Reading turned out to be greatly exaggerated.

In a last-minute policy reversal made just before the Town of Reading was blanketed with its first blast of winter precipitation, Schools’ Superintendent Dr. John Doherty earlier this month announced he was cancelling classes in all local schools instead of instituting a remote learning day.

“[I]f we have a snow day tomorrow, it will be a true snow day, not a remote day,” Doherty wrote parents and families in a message published before a recent nor'easter.

The superintendent’s decision marks just the latest on-the-fly adjustment to the hybrid learning model adopted by the School Committee last summer, when central office administrators contended that the district’s expanded remote classroom capabilities would spell the end of snow days for the 2020-2021 year.

According to Doherty, while reviewing the district’s snow day alternative in preparation for this week’s storm, he realized the remote learning plan posed a number of logistical challenges for educators who teach live from their classrooms.

He also contends the remote learning model does not work well for preschoolers, kindergarteners and “high needs” populations.

“As we began to peel back the onion on what this would mean, we realized that having a ‘’remote snow day’ would create equity issues from some of our staff and students,” the superintendent explained.

The last minute adjustment comes as the winter season roared to life across New England  with a particularly fierce nor’easter that dumped  a foot of snow on Reading before its swept back out to sea later this evening.

According to Doherty, given the multitude of stressful challenges already encountered by teachers and students this year, he looks at the reintroduction of snow days as a way to give the school community a needed “mental break”.

“Snow days allow all of us to take a break in the fast-paced world we are living in. Students can enjoy this occasional snow days where they can just play and be kids,” the superintendent wrote yesterday. “This year, more than ever, we need that occasional mental break.”

Original plan

As part of a lengthy reopening plan submitted to the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in August, Reading had proposed to swap out snow cancellations with a day of at-home learning.

Because of that new COVID-19 era policy, the district’s 2020-2021 calendar — which lists June 17 as the last day of school — includes no built in cushion for snow days.

The School Committee, which is charged with setting the district’s official calendar each year, can address that issue easily enough through a simple vote. The only potential obstacle to that quick fix would be a protest from local educators, but according to the superintendent he has already broached the topic with the local teachers’ union.

“In full collaboration, we brought our concerns to the Reading Teachers Association and discussed the challenges with them and the pros and cons of traditional snow day versus remote snow day. After much discussion, they supported the idea that going back to traditional snow days would be the best course of action,” the superintendent explained in his message to parents on Wednesday.

DESE required the submission of reopening plans last summer in order to give the educators, families, and the general public some advance notice of how their local schools would operate under various learning settings.

The town is not beholden to every aspect of its school reopening plan, and DESE has made clear that local school districts retail the exclusive authority to decide how to handle snow days this year.

In the larger region, neighboring communities appear to be split as to how snow days will be handled. North Reading, Tewksbury, and Woburn all opted to hold classes remotely today, while Melrose and and Wilmington were sticking to a traditional snow day model.

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