DESE Cancels School “Blizzard Bags”

Snow days will continue to be snow days! DESE closes down “blizzard bags” option for local districts.

A memo from the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to district leaders announced a sun-setting of the pilot program for schools to test out “alternative structured learning days” if such a policy was approved by the local school committee.

Since 2015, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has allowed school committees to approve a local option for scheduling “alternative structured learning day programs” for school closings due to inclement weather. The so-called “blizzard bag” option allowed districts to provide learning activities that could be completed at home as long as the activities were “substantial,” “accessible,” and “account for the widely varying circumstances in students’ homes.” Within this framework, school committees could approve such a program and it would apply towards the student learning time and 180 school days requirement.

Only a few districts used the “blizzard bag” or ASLD option but concerns about whether the program could provide equitable access to all students have increased. DESE requested copies of all locally-approved ASLD programs in 2018. In the fall of 2018, DESE established a working group to review the policy. Representatives from the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts participated in the work group along with representatives from superintendents, school administrators associations and from 10 Massachusetts school districts.

As a result of this review, Commissioner Riley has discontinued the pilot program after the 2019-20 school year. No specific reason for canceling the programs was given, yet concerns were raised in the Commissioner’s memo about “equitable access” for all students and compliance with all state and federal laws.

A letter announcing the policy change was sent to Superintendents last week and included in the June 27, 2019 Commissioner’s Weekly Update.

The full updated memo will soon become available on the Commissioner’s Special Advisories and will replace prior guidance.

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