Prolonged school closures could affect student learning

School closures wrought by rowdy winter weather have Idaho students and educators scrambling to catch up with the lost time — some as many as six days.

Teachers are rewriting lesson plans. Administrators are considering altering school schedules. Parents are concerned their students may fall behind after weeks away from school. And many agree Idaho’s most vulnerable students — those with special needs or language barriers — may be affected the most.

Most school leaders are not planning to tack on extra class time in the wake of widespread school closures. Click here for a full report on how administrators evaluate class time after so many snow days.

“Kids have missed anywhere between 27-29 consecutive school days,” said Jennie O’Reilly, a parent in the West Ada School District, referring to snow closures tacked onto Christmas vacation.

That much lost time could hamper students’ abilities to remember concepts previously taught, O’Reilly said, or throw them behind in the coming months.

Most kids are resilient when snow days start piling up, educators say, but not all.

“It’s often those few kids who really struggle to read or who are learning English that have the hardest time when they come back,” said Jessica Thompsen, a third-grade teacher at Stoddard Elementary in the Blackfoot School District.

Most of Thompsen’s students appear to be “on track” after the prolonged break. But she has at least one who demonstrated learning loss after Christmas vacation — before a series of blizzards nabbed five more school days.

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“I can only imagine where she is now,” Thompsen said on Wednesday, the district’s first full day back in a week.

Parent Lacee Hansen lives on the outskirts of the Blackfoot School District. She’s “okay with all the closures” because most rural roads surrounding her house disappeared under a blanket of drifting snow last week, rendering it difficult to get out.

She’d rather school districts air on safety. “Plus, I made sure to read with my kids at home — I’m really not worried about them falling behind,” she said.

The Boise School District has canceled six school days and doesn’t plan to add any time back into the remaining school year. Melanie Koch, principal at Boise’s Morley Nelson Elementary, said she’s concerned about her school’s economically disadvantaged students, but has faith in her teachers.

Educators at Morley Nelson are now creating lesson plans that are “more efficient to make up for the lost time,” Koch said.

Meanwhile, rigorous credit requirements mingled with compressed, 13-week trimesters have high school teachers feeling the pinch.

Shauna Wheelwright, a special education teacher at Snake River High School, said pelting snow postponed the creation of an individualized education plan for a student in desperate need of it.

“I would’ve gone into the school and met with the parents myself,” she said, “but parents, an administrator and another teacher have to attend those meetings. There was nothing I could do.”

Snake River superintendent David Kerns said teachers and students in his four-day district might be able to capitalize on extra time by holding classes on Fridays. But Wheelwright is doubtful.

“Do you really think kids will come to school on days they are used to having off?” she said.

Teachers at Blackfoot High School might get the chance to rob days from the upcoming trimester. Like Snake River, Blackfoot’s schedule revolves around shortened trimester blocks that can test teachers’ cramming capabilities.

Blackfoot superintendent Brian Kress said he’ll gather teachers’ feedback about the option in the coming weeks.

“If the teachers say they need it, it could very likely happen,” he said.