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Nevada school district drops controversial snow day policy

March 5, 2019
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FILE- In this Feb. 15, 2019 file photo, Hao Liu, of San Francisco, rolls a large ball of snow for a snowman his family was making as the snow falls at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno, Nev. Northern Nevada’s biggest school district is abandoning a controversial new policy that required students to do assignments online from home when classes were cancelled due to snow or other inclement weather. The Washoe County School District announced Monday, March 4, it is discontinuing the use of so-called "Digital School Days" for the remainder of the school year. The district includes Reno, Sparks and parts of Lake Tahoe. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, File)/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Northern Nevada’s biggest school district is abandoning a new policy that required students to do assignments online from home when classes were cancelled because of snow or other inclement weather.

The Washoe County School District announced Monday it is discontinuing the use of so-called “Digital School Days” for the rest of the school year.

The district includes Reno, Sparks and parts of nearby Lake Tahoe, where an unusually harsh winter already has dropped more than 40 feet (12 meters) of snow at the top of area ski resorts.

District Superintendent Traci Davis said state education officials told school district officials at a meeting on Friday students will not be required to make up any days missed due to snow so far this year.

For the rest of the school year, she said if snow requires the cancellation of classes, students will be told to remain home without any assignments to complete at home.

Numerous parents had complained about the new policy adopted in the fall and some said it violated federal laws dictating instruction for special needs students.

State and district officials said they will work together to come up with a new policy for the next school year.

The district had adopted the “digital days,” believing they would count as official school days and not snow days that would have to be made up at the end of the school year. Making up snow days was past practice.

Many schools in the district had to extend the last school year to make up required instruction hours for two snow days. District schools have declared between two and six digital days this school year.

The Nevada Department of Education notified the district in recent weeks that the digital days do not count as official school days, despite district officials’ claims they had received assurances earlier they were in compliance.

Michelle Bumgarner, a northern Nevada lawyer specializing in special education law, told the Reno Gazette Journal last week that the current policy violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She said the act requires that all students with disabilities must receive free and appropriate education tailored to their individual needs.

Examples of online assignments have ranged from a page of math problems to high school students taking photos of themselves in the snow and grade school students writing several sentences about TV shows they watched.

Davis said the district “was never in violation of any state law.”

But “it is evident from the feedback we have received that this has been a frustrating process for some of our families and staff members, and we regret that,” she said in a statement Monday.

Davis said the district looks forward to gathering additional input from parents and working with the state to come up with an alternative that is acceptable to all.

“We are a listening and learning organization first and foremost,” she said.

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