South County school districts take different approaches to snow days, starting today

Above+left%2C+Rogers+Elementary+first+grader+Dominic+Vallejo+works+at+school+wearing+a+mask+Dec.+16%2C+2020%2C+as+Mehlville+school+signs%2C+right%2C+ask+the+community+to+do+the+same.+

Above left, Rogers Elementary first grader Dominic Vallejo works at school wearing a mask Dec. 16, 2020, as Mehlville school signs, right, ask the community to do the same.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

With virtual learning an option on a snow day for the first time this year in Missouri, some South County school districts are rethinking snow days, starting with today.

Due to the winter weather overnight that has made streets icy, the Mehlville School District, Lindbergh Schools, the Hancock Place School District and the Bayless School District called off classes entirely today, without a virtual learning day.

But the Affton School District said all students will have a virtual learning day.

K-12 students have been used to virtual learning throughout the year in all South County public school districts, but for several weeks in Mehlville and several months in Lindbergh, elementary students have not had any virtual days. Mehlville elementary students returned to five days a week of class in person at the start of the second semester Jan. 19. Lindbergh elementary students returned Oct. 27 to five days of in-person learning.

In the past snow and icy roads would have meant that school would have been canceled for the day, but Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines said this year that a side effect of all the schools’ experience with virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic this year is that there will never be “snow days” again.

This is the first year that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, allows “virtual snow days,” which means that while students may not be able to make it to school due to inclement weather, the school day can still be done at home that day, so make-up snow days will not be an issue.

Many districts are using the experience with virtual learning to transition to virtual snow days, but Mehlville said in response to questions on its Facebook page Tuesday morning that virtual snow days will start happening next year, after the pandemic. Until then, the district will bank the days at the end of the year as would be typical in any other year. Typically the district has tried to avoid extra days at the end of the year, which extend the school year into June. But this year, the district is welcoming more in-person school days at the end of the year rather than virtual snow days now.

Mehlville did, however, call off school in favor of virtual learning for an issue at one school Monday: Oakville Elementary had a power outage, and the district had students stay home and learn.

“We think we’re very well prepared for that. We got the plan approved by the state and snow days are gonna look different into the future,” Gaines previewed in his State of the District speech in the fall. “At least we can use some of these virtual, blended learning experiences that we’ve had over the many months.”