NJ Schools Try Out Virtual Learning as Alternative to Snow Days

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

It was an idea borne of necessity. Kids couldn’t get to school because of snow, but they still had access to a virtual classroom through their district-issued laptops.

“We had the capabilities to provide instruction at home using laptops. We contacted the DOE, they gave us the go, approval as a pilot program,” said Pascack Valley High School Assistant Principal John Puccio.

“We thought it was a fantastic way to spend a snow day. One hundred percent of students had the opportunity to be engaged throughout the day. Attendance was higher with regards to participation then we would get on a normal regular school day,” said Pascack Valley Regional High School Superintendent Erik Gundersen.

Remote learning does require some innovative lessons. One example — phys ed classes.

“It incorporated taking your heart rate after shoveling for a period of time and then commenting on it,” explained Gundersen.

“One hundred percent, it was productive. I am talking about what students did now, feedback they’re giving me now, confirms the fact that it was productive. I don’t feel like we lost a day of school. We’re moving forward from what we did that day to the next lesson,” said teacher Ed Sandt.

“I worked pretty much the whole day and I had homework and in the comfort of my home — in my pajamas,” said student Amanda Tosi.

Aside from one brief technical glitch, school officials declared their first virtual snow day a success, but it’s unclear if the New Jersey Department of Education will allow it to count for credit toward the 180 required classroom days.

One obstacle, says New Jersey DOE Communications Director Mike Yaple is “New Jersey’s laws and regulations on attendance and the minimum number of school days were created long before anyone envisioned children taking classes from home. So before any statewide policy changes can occur, we would probably need to be sure laws and regulations catch up with technology.”

But the DOE doesn’t regulate or track snow days taken by private schools. Newark Academy is among those testing out remote learning.

“Kids might think it is mean to take away the snowdays but the more you take back, now you have 10 days of work to do, you chop into serious chunks of vacation. That’s whay I think it is humane to everyone to move along,” said Newark Academy Upper School Principal Richard DiBianco.

Parents we spoke with also liked the idea.

“Anything can be done remotely, so I am fully behind giving your kids that capability,” said Jeff Meyer.

The NJEA is assessing the pros and cons of virtual snow days. Providing flexibility for teachers is key, says DiBianco, who is a teacher and principal.

Once Pascack Valley School officials submit data to the state about lesson plans and student attendance or participation rates, the NJDOE will determine whether or not it will count as a regular school day.