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March 09, 2022

Snow days at New Jersey public schools could soon be replaced with virtual learning

A bill passed by the state Senate would count online classes towards the federal requirement for the academic year

Government Education
Snow Day New Jersey Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Snow days could be a things of the past in New Jersey, as the state Senate passed a bill to replace inclement weather school closures with virtual learning.

Public school students in New Jersey could soon lose out on traditional snow days, as the state Senate passed a bill last week to replace inclement weather-based closures with virtual learning. 

If the bill becomes law, remote learning days would count towards the 180-day federal requirement for the academic year.  

The legislation signals a shift to online learning that could outlast the pandemic. School districts across the United States are considering implementing similar measures to negate the need for additional make-up days and ensure that students can finish the academic year on time.

The bill does require that schools provide up to three make-up days. However, if virtual learning is able to be a viable alternative, it could be used as the equivalent of a regular school day. The legislation also allows for virtual learning to replace school closures under other emergent conditions, such as State of Emergency orders and public health emergencies. 

"Now we have the ability to conduct remote learning during a weather emergency and not lose a day of instruction due to snow storms or other hazardous weather," Senator Nicholas Sacco, one of the bill's primary sponsors, told "Our hope is that this will help districts to avoid extending the school year as we continue to see more extreme weather conditions."  

Currently, a virtual school day can only count towards the 180-day requirement if there is a State of Emergency order in place for at least three days, according to Annette C. Giaquinto, Superintendent of Galloway Public Schools. 

While New Jersey students were able to be switched to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have those days count, snow days could not. 

"Remote and in-person lesson plans are not necessarily interchangeable and cannot always be switched on a moment's notice," Steve Baker, spokesperson for NJEA, told, adding that although remote learning was necessary during the pandemic, nearly everyone agrees that in-person instruction is more effective. 

In order for schools to implement the change, school district's must provide a written statement to the state's board of education, testifying that all students within that particular school district have broadband internet and device access for the time period being shifted to virtual learning. 

If school districts fail to assure that all students have access to the technology necessary for virtual learning, or the board of education determines that the circumstances did not warrant a remote learning day, those days will not be counted towards the 180-day requirement, according to the bill. 

The legislative move to virtual learning in place of traditional snow days is a shift being felt around the country, as school districts attempt to provide an easy alternative to in-person learning in the event of inclement weather, which often elongates the school year. 

Over the last two years, as schools have attempted to adjust to ever-changing school closures due to COVID-19, some schools opted to get rid of snow days as students were already learning remotely. 

In Pennsylvania, some school districts are at odds over whether relying on remote learning during snow days is necessary, particularly given the culture around it. 

Yet, as pandemic-era restrictions are lifted and students begin to return to traditional learning methods, virtual learning is viewed as a familiar alternative to school closure. 

In 2020, the School District of Philadelphia did not hold traditional snow days while its students were learning remotely, noting that unless the inclement weather poses a threat to students' abilities to get online and stay online, there is no reason to cancel classes. 

Rob McGee, superintendent of the Neshaminy School District in Bucks County, said during the 2020-2021 school year that snow days are an important "rite of passage" for students and their families to enjoy the snow. But McGee said he was not opposed to switching to virtual learning as an alternative if the weather impacted the school calendar. 

Some Pennsylvania school districts use "flexible instruction days" for circumstances when in-person learning would pose a threat to health or safety. 

The guidelines for the state program — which school districts must apply for ahead of the academic year — include inclement weather as one possible reason for instituting up to five flexible instruction days in a given year. 

"We did have superintendents who just said we're going to have a traditional snow day. Just go have fun in the snow," Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators told PennLive last year. "Some of them were applauded for that and some of them were skewered for that. I think that's going to be something every district based on their culture will have to work through." 

The bill passed out of the New Jersey State Senate on March 3, with a 39-0 vote. An identical bill was introduced in the Assembly at the beginning of the week, and awaits further deliberation and a vote. If passed, the legislation would go into effect immediately.