In a 7-1 vote, the Board of Education decided that Montgomery County Public Schools will determine on an individual basis whether schools have virtual classes or are off on inclement weather days.
Student Member of the Board Hana O’Looney dissented from the majority, citing a lack of student perspective.
“I agree with Hana O’Looney. I feel like she has a better perspective since this decision would affect her more than some of the Board members,” sophomore Prisca Agbeyibor said. “She’s also more in tune with what her classmates and teachers feel about this decision since many people are talking about it.”
Virtual instruction would occur on a modified two-hour delay schedule to allot time for students to prepare for online classes and staff to modify their lesson plans. Watkins Mill classes last 25 minutes with 10 minute breaks in between, while lunch is one hour. Food distribution will not available for students on single-day closures.
Some feel that having virtual classes on emergency weather days could potentially put a lot of stress on teachers and students, exacerbating the turmoil this year has already caused.
“I think that requiring kids to ‘attend’ seven classes and complete assignments in those classes is a huge burden on a snow day,” said Sonya Shpilyuk, English teacher and Montgomery County Education Association Building Representative. “Pretending like it is ‘school as normal’ is a burden on those days.”
The teachers’ union is pushing to ensure that any decision made about virtual snow days does not unfairly burden teachers outside of their work contract.
Shpilyuk feels that the social and emotional impact on the Watkins Mill community depends on how the virtual days are structured.
“It could be structured in a way that is a huge burden…for everyone,” Shpilyuk said. “Or, it could be structured as…an opportunity for the school to reach out to students and say ‘Are you ok? Is your family ok? How can you use today to learn something new about yourself or the world?’ ”
Should an inclement weather day result in virtual classes, senior Yoselin Escobar would have to care for her younger brother—a responsibility that many Watkins Mill students share.
“It would be hard for me to focus on managing my classes and schoolwork while taking care of him at the same time,” Escobar said.
“There are too many factors to consider like last-minute planning and [taking care of] younger kids,” Agbeyibor added. “As we have learned with virtual, it’s hard to change [lesson plans] with little notice.”
The state of Maryland requires students to have at least 180 days of school, but in the past have granted waivers at the request of county superintendents.
“It feels like MCPS only cares about getting their 180-day requirement in rather than the students’ health and wellness,” Agbeyibor said.
If MCPS has virtual snow days, “we need to have a different approach that allows students and teachers to deal with their lives [and] still ‘check in’ with school,” Shpilyuk said.