Why Doesn’t My High School Use "Blizzard Bags"?
** The views reflected in this article represent my personal views, not those of the School District that I work for. **
What is a Blizzard Bag, Anyways?
You may have heard of the term “blizzard bag” because there are some school districts near us that use them as a way to “make up” for lost school days due to snow cancellations. Blizzard bags have been in New Hampshire for about a decade and were first proposed by the Kearsarge Regional School District as a way to solve a problem that they were facing after a really bad winter left them with too many snow days to make-up that year. Kearsarge worked to get this language into the New Hampshire Minimum Standards for School Approval, language that has become known as the blizzard bag option for schools:
A school district may submit a plan to the commissioner that will allow schools to conduct instruction remotely for up to 5 days per year when the school has been closed due to inclement weather or other emergency. The plan shall include procedures for participation by all students. Academic work shall be equivalent in effort and rigor to typical classroom work. There shall be an assessment of all student work for the day. At least 80 percent of students shall participate for the day to count as a school day.
So, a school that calls for a “blizzard bag” day will typically ask teachers to develop online or paper lessons and assessments in advance. On the snow day, students would be expected to complete these assignments at home and teachers would have to be available online for a period of time to answer questions. As long as at least 80% of the students complete the work, the district can count the day as a regular school day.
OK, So Why Don’t More Schools Use Them?
It seems like a logical way to make up a snow day, so why don’t more school districts take advantage of this option? Here is why:
According to the New Hampshire Minimum Standards for School Approval, high schools are expected to count instructional hours, not days. This is in contrast to the rule that many of us grew up with that called for the school year to be 180 days long. In reality, the school year needs to be 990 hours long. Those 990 hours have to be actual class minutes, not time spent in the hallway walking to class or time spent eating lunch.
How My School Meets the State Requirement for Instructional Time Without Blizzard Bags
In my school, a typical school day has four 60-minute classes, one 40-minute Focused Learning Time (FLT) period, and one 80-minute class. That equals exactly 6 instructional hours. After 165 school days, our high school has met the State’s 990 minimum instructional hour requirement. That leaves us an additional 16 days of buffer time in our 181 day calendar (we seem to like 181 more than 180, but that is a story for another day), and we need some of that buffer time for unexpected things like early releases, two hour delays, and other extenuating circumstances.
You might ask, what’s the harm in having kids do extra work from home with blizzard bags and then counting those days (or hours) anyways? I can tell you from personal experience with five children in a school system that uses blizzard bags that most (if not all) of the work my kids do for their blizzard bags is what I would classify as “busy work.” There is little if any learning taking place for my children during their blizzard bag time at the kitchen table with my wife Erica, who always draws the short straw to stay at home with our kids and help them with their assignments. Their efforts to plow through their busy-work are, in no way, a suitable replacement for the instruction that they would have received from their amazing teachers in the classroom (and they have some great teachers, I must add!)
Blizzard Bags Are a Waste of Time and Resources
Blizzard bags are a waste of time and resources for all involved. Kids are sent the message that doing busy-work at home is a way to “count” a day of school, placing little if any value on the actual instructional time that they missed out on with their teachers. Parents have to spend time with their kids working on these assignments at home. The teachers spend time putting together and grading blizzard bags. The district pays teachers for a day’s wages for all of this busy work, and all so that the school can “count” the day. It is a shame, because everyone's time is valuable (both kids, teachers, and parents), and that time could have been better spent in better ways.
At my high school, I think we have found a better solution. We have a school calendar with 181 school days. We know that we only need 165 full days to meet the minimum 990 hours of instruction to make the year “count.” We keep kids in school for most of those 181 days anyways, because we don’t believe that “minimum” is ever good enough. When we have to call school for a snow day, we
So, next time we have a snow day and you see that your friends from other school districts have these things called “blizzard bags” and they sound like a really great idea, think twice. They may not be as good as they sound.