Goodbye, Colorado School Snow Days. Hello, Remote Learning (In Some Districts)

Kids sled the big hill at Ruby Hill in Denver. Feb. 25, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Kids sled the big hill at Ruby Hill in Denver. Feb. 25, 2021.

Many Denver-area school districts, whether they were practicing remote learning or in-person up until Thursday, closed Thursday after a snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow in many parts along the Front Range.

Some school districts, however, pressed on with remote learning, while others carried on with their normal schedule of in-person and hybrid learning.

“As always, we respect the decisions of our parents,” the Boulder Valley district said in a tweet. Schools in the district remained open, despite the snow. “If you assess your specific situation and do not feel comfortable sending your student to school on a day like today, you may keep them home and we will consider it an excused absence.”

The inclement weather closed dozens of other districts including Douglas County, Cherry Creek, Adams 12 Five Star, Littleton, Mapleton, Aurora, 27J (Brighton), Elizabeth, Byers 32J, Harrison, Lewis-Palmer, and Bennet and many Catholic schools.

Several districts, including the two largest in the state, Denver and Jefferson County, switched back to district-wide remote learning because of poor weather and travel conditions. Denver announced a two-hour delay so teachers could prepare their instruction.

“We understand that this shift to remote learning on short notice does present challenges,” the DPS officials said in a release. “Our students have already lost so much learning time, and we feel it’s important to do whatever we can to maximize academic instruction and support this school year by shifting in-person students to remote learning.”

Jefferson County Public Schools has three inclement weather options: a 2-hour delay, district-wide remote day, which is what they did Thursday, and a complete snow day away from school. It didn’t provide details on what conditions would lead to a snow day versus a district-wide remote day.

For some school districts, bad weather no longer means no school.

Westminster Public Schools, which returned all students to in-person learning after the winter break, notified staff and families on Tuesday that the district’s plan moving forward is to use a remote platform on bad weather days. Superintendent Pamela Swanson said teachers were already aware of the need to transition to remote in case of COVID-19-related quarantine issues.

“Our kids and staff should be bringing devices home every day,” Swanson said. She told the school board Tuesday night, “any day our students are learning is a good day.”

“In the past year, we feel like we have acquired both the technology and expertise to make remote learning a viable learning option for our kids,” she said. “There is no reason kids can’t go outside and build a snowman, but also spend time building their academic skills as well.”  

All students in the Adams 14 district, which spans Commerce City, participated in remote learning Thursday. The district has been managed by a private firm, MGT Consulting, since 2019. The district said whether or not there will ever be snow days — away from school — again is to be determined.

“At this point, since our kids had been doing exclusive remote learning since the start of the pandemic through January 2021, this was the best way to ensure additional learning time,” Adams 14 officials said in a statement.  

Englewood, Falcon 49 and Colorado Springs 11 schools all also spent the day in remote learning.

Pueblo 60 public schools announced a “stay at home asynchronous online learning day.” That means K-12 students worked on completing online assignments independently for each of their classes. All preschool classes were cancelled. Pueblo district 70, outside the city, closed schools, but students carried on with remote learning.

CPR reached out to several school districts that cancelled both in-person and remote, but their central offices were closed and officials did not immediately respond to questions. 

Littleton Public Schools, however, called a snow day for the district’s fully online program, called TOPS, to minimize confusion for families. The district, which serves more than 15,000 students in the southern Denver metropolitan area, closed schools completely.

“We don't ask teachers, students and families to anticipate a possible snow day nor prepare for remote learning without a day's notice to plan accordingly,” said LPS spokesperson Diane Leiker. 

Mapleton School District also tries to give teachers and students a day to prepare if they will be working remotely for an extended period of time. The district has been teaching in-person five days a week at all grade levels since August, only moving classes to remote when necessary.

“We didn't see a need to roll the entire system to remote for one day of snow,” said spokesperson Melissa Johnson. “If it were a blizzard and possibly prolonged, we'd likely move the system to remote learning.” 

Aurora Public Schools said on its website it was cancelling remote learning Thursdaybecause we did not provide advanced notice of the potential closure as noted under our new protocol.Officials could not be reached for more information about the protocol.

On Littleton Public Schools’ website, it answered the question of why some school districts stay open and others close on snowy days. It said it is not uncommon for weather and traffic conditions to vary greatly from one community to another.

“Littleton Public Schools is considered to be in the central corridor of the metro area and typically experiences the same weather and traffic conditions as Englewood and Denver. Weather and traffic conditions in the Cherry Creek, Douglas County and Jeffco school districts can be different than weather and traffic conditions in the Littleton area.”