In an unprecedented moment for Anchorage public school students and families, two back-to-back snowstorms closed schools for a fourth school day in a row Monday.
The Southcentral Alaska storms dumped 3 feet of snow around the city. Further complications came after plowing issues left streets unsafe for both school buses and students walking to school.
Late Monday, the district announced schools would reopen Tuesday, “barring any unforeseen weather conditions.”
The snow days mean the Anchorage School District must now figure out how to make up for lost instructional days. The district only budgeted for two weather closures this year, and there have already been five — and more snow is in the forecast this week.
District officials are still deciding how to adjust the calendar, including possibly adding days to the end of the year, or adding minutes to each school day, said spokesman MJ Thim.
The district will then present the Anchorage School Board with calendar adjustment options, and members will vote on the changes, according to school board president Margo Bellamy.
While the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District had started remote learning amid weather-related closures, the Anchorage district had not.
That’s because the district wasn’t set up to do remote learning, Thim said. Students returned their pandemic-era Google Chromebook laptops at the end of last school year, and the district had gone back to pre-pandemic operations.
In order to have remote learning options, students would need to be back in school buildings so teachers could distribute the right materials, Thim said. It wouldn’t take long to jump-start remote learning, if the district makes that decision for a future weather closure, Thim said.
Also, the fifth weather day was officially a non-working day for the district’s teachers, who had previously been grading, planning and doing other work while schools were closed, according to Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage teachers union, the Anchorage Education Association.
It’s a bad time to be out of school — elementary classes are doing assessments, while high school and middle school students are finishing up their semesters with cumulative work, like finals, he said.
While the district and staff are ready to work, the municipality wasn’t able to get the streets plowed enough to allow that to happen, said Aist, who called the situation “ridiculous.”
“All of our educators are really trying to end the semester strong for all of our students,” Aist said. “And are really being hampered by not being able to provide instruction.”