For students in the Mt. Pleasant School District in Washington, along the Columbia River Gorge, the return to school this week has resembled last school year, back when buildings were closed due to COVID-19.
Students learn at home, using school-issued Chromebooks. Students in grades four through eight meet with their teachers. Others have a chance to “do something creative,” like build a snowman.
That’s because for the last two days, Mt. Pleasant School has been forced to close by poor travel conditions caused by weather. And this year, snow days are distance learning days.
It’s a holdover from last year, said Mt. Pleasant principal and superintendent Milt Dennison.
“When the board developed the calendar, rather than building in snow days...what the board did at that time in consultation with the administration, was to determine that if school had to be closed for whatever reason, then the kids move right back on to their online learning program,” Dennison said.
Most of the school districts in Oregon and Washington closed for weather conditions this week have cancelled school. But at least three other school districts are doing something similar to Mt. Pleasant, and continuing with distance learning.
They include Wishram School District in Washington, and Dufur and Sherman County school districts in Oregon.
In Dufur, there was no school at all — virtual or otherwise — on Monday, Jan. 3. Though Dufur superintendent Jack Henderson says he had told staff that snow days would become distance learning, but he wanted to give families notice and make sure everyone was prepared.
Henderson said he was nervous about the switch to distance learning Tuesday, but he said things went well.
“Attendance was pretty good, most classes had a large percentage of students involved,” Henderson said.
While checking in on an Algebra 2 class over Zoom, he surveyed students to ask what they thought of learning at home again.
“They’re like, ‘it was fine, we did it most of the year last year,’” Henderson said. He said flexibility from staff members was key to keeping things going, and making sure students and teachers connected.
“Although virtual is certainly not like being in person, you’re still together and they still feel that togetherness,” Henderson said.
He jokes that snow days have become “old-fashioned,” now that students have Chromebooks they can take home. But both Henderson and Dennison at Mt. Pleasant hope to have students back to school in-person Wednesday.
Next week, Dennison said staff will evaluate the success of the distance learning days by looking at attendance and reaching out to families.
Dennison said while it’s not an “ideal” way to return to school after the break, there is one bright spot.
“I don’t have to get up at five in the morning,” he said.