JONESVILLE — A winter weather forecast for Southwest Virginia this week already has Southwest Virginia school divisions looking at how virtual instruction during the pandemic can be adapted for snow days.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Brian Austin on Monday announced that the division will operate remote classes with limited exceptions starting on Tuesday until Christmas vacation and then for the first full week of January until starting in-person classes on Jan.11. The move is because of forecasts for inclement weather, he said.
“We are already scheduled for remote learning every Friday,” Austin said, adding that the in-person class shutdown gives students and teachers some consistency this week.
Norton City Schools Superintendent Gina Wohlford says that, while Norton students returned to school on Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, her staff are readying for possible school delays or closings by using remote learning.
“We still have a 2-hour delay option, and a complete closure option in extreme cases,” Wohlford said, “but hope to use a virtual learning day — Non Traditional Instruction (NTI) day — option when weather would normally have prevented us from having school in previous years.”
Wohlford said that the city schools will have three options for weather related school schedule changes: two-hour delay, the standard non-traditional remote learning day as used for Fridays, and a complete school closing when weather has impacted utilities and power in the city. When remote learning is chosen for a weather day, teachers will be available 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. by online or other communication methods to answer questions about coursework.
When the weather forces a schedule change in Norton schools, Wohlford said, announcements for a two-hour delay will be announced through radio and television by 6:30 a.m. If a weather delay is changed to non-traditional classwork, that decision will be made no later than 8:30 a.m.
Assistant Superintendent Jason Smith said Scott County does not have any snow days built into its school calendar. The board approved an inclement weather plan for this year in November.
“If conditions are right, those will be a virtual learning day for our kids,” Smith said. “If there are massive power outages, issues as far as being able to provide equitable learning, then that would be a closed day for us, but we plan on providing virtual learning on our snow days whenever possible to do that.”
In Wise County, Superintendent Greg Mullins said that, generally, virtual instruction would be used where division staff had a few days’ lead time for severe weather forecasts.
“If we have some warning, we can have teachers tell their students what they’ll need to take home with them,” Mullins said.
Mullins said the likelihood of a remote instruction day is low if bad weather happens with little or no warning. In cases where a longer period of winter weather is forecast early enough, remote learning becomes a more practical option, he added.
“I had this discussion with someone a few days ago,” Mullins said. “I looked back at when I was a student and remembered how many students always looked forward to a snow day.”