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Harford County schools to parents and staff: How do you want us to handle snow days next year?

When all students in Harford County Public Schools were doing virtual instruction last year and there was snow outside, students would continue learning on their computers. Once students returned to the classrooms, and there was a weather event in which HCPS officials deemed it unsafe to bus students to school, all classes were canceled with no online instruction.

Now, with plans to return students to a normal, five-days-per-week, in-person schedule in the fall, the Harford school system is asking parents: How do you want us to handle inclement weather days this coming school year?

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“Having experienced both responses to inclement weather last year, we’d like your input. Please take a brief survey to share how you would like HCPS to respond on inclement weather days,” according to a post on the school system’s website, with a link to the survey.

The survey asks whether you are a parent or guardian, or HCPS staff member, where your student attends or where you work, and then offers two options.

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Option 1 is to close all schools and offices, meaning no instruction or office hours for the duration of the day. This would result in the use of inclement weather days built into the HCPS calendar.

The second option would be to conduct virtual instruction, which would mean students and staff wouldn’t need to make up those days at the end of the school year.

The approved 2021-22 calendar includes six inclement weather days built into the schedule. If none are used, the last day of schools for students would be Friday, June 10. If all six are used, schools would wrap up for the summer on Monday, June 20.

Opting for virtual instruction would mean students would be required to transport devices to and from school on a regular basis, according to the survey. Parents can also choose between whether online learning at the same time as their teachers and classmates, or if it would be asynchronous, with content designed so a student can work on their own without live, direct instruction from the teacher.

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Kristina Goedeke, who has five students in elementary through high school in the North Harford area, said she would prefer traditional snow days.

“We live in an internet dead zone so virtual leaves all five of my current HCPS students out of luck when you do virtual,” the Pylesville resident said.

WiFi hotspots provided by the school system last year were unreliable and having a hub for students on inclement weather days is unrealistic given how dangerous roads in the northern part of the county can be, Goedeke said.

Katie York selected a virtual option when she filled out the survey Thursday. Keeping students’ schedules on track and not having to make up days in June were reasons she chose the virtual option.

York, the mother of an incoming seventh-grader at Aberdeen Middle, said she’d like to see the virtual option be asynchronous, however.

“Some families may need to take a student to a location outside of their home if the schools are not open and the parent still needs to go in to work,” she said. “If the virtual option was live instruction, students may miss part of their classes in transit to the other location. Also, if it is a snow day, asynchronous might allow some time for outdoor time during the daylight hours for those who want to enjoy the snow.”

Depending on the assignments, she said, asynchronous learning would also be a better option for students experiencing internet issues related to the weather.

The survey will remain open until midnight Aug. 1.

“We’re hoping to get as great a response as possible to help evaluate what should happen on inclement weather days that prevent safe transportation to school,” Jillian Lader, a spokesperson for HCPS and head of the school calendar committee. “We need the community’s input now so staff can focus on the details of how either option will impact the system.”

Lader said the results of the survey would be presented to the Board of Education and the public before a decision is made on how to handle inclement weather days, but wasn’t sure when that would happen.

The 2021-22 school year begins Wednesday, Sept. 8, in Harford County.

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