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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2 thoughts on “DESE Cancels School “Blizzard Bags”

  1. It was not equitable with wealthy districts having more advantages of getting the blizzard bag assignments done than poorer urban districts. Keeping the assignments relevant was also the problem what educator has time to put together 30 plus blizzard assignments that are relevant to the work students are doing at the time when snow days are called? When weather predicting is more reliable and educators have the time to prepare that is a different story. What about art and music and PE if those students even get that in school? No educator has time to do the work to prepare the assignments for students differentiate and have it ready and timely to do. In addition, educators then have to grade them. If you put up a website than you are relying on having internet access during this snow day and for days afterward. When Western Mass had that freak snow storm in October 2011 we were out of power for 5 days some students did not have heat it was survival mode. No family was going to do blizzard bag work when they are worried about their children’s safety and care.This was the right call by DESE. Once every community has free fiber broadband access that is not reliant on electricity then DESE can revisit this. If an educator was on the Board of Education we would not have wasted two years doing this and stressing families out.

    1. I live in the hills of Massachusetts and have children in both elementary and high school. I disagree with not having blizzard bags. Not every day needs to be a blizzard bag but having the ability to use up to five of them per year decreases the amount of time we go in June. Too many years the school districts end up going to the end of June. Last year, the first year we did blizzard bags, was such a relief to so many families when we actually got out in mid June. We still had to go a few days at the end of the school year but having used all five blizzard bags, it would have been another week before we got out otherwise. As for “equitable with wealthy districts having more advantages”, we are not in a wealthy district. Of course there are some students that won’t do them, but they also probably won’t come in at the end of the year either. Students that care about their grade and/or have parents that make sure homework is done, got them done. If a certain percent of students didn’t do them (equal to a normal day of school with absences), than it did not count and would be added to the end of the school year. Summer is so short now as it is and going until the last few days in June makes it even shorter. I wish this topic would be reconsidered.

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