Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on repercussions of this school year’s many snow days.

Superintendent Berman said recently that “alternative structure learning day program” days will be considered and potentially implemented for Andover Public Schools in upcoming years.

These, more commonly known as ‘blizzard bag’ days, are one of the many strategies Andover is contemplating as a means of combating school cancellations due to inclement weather. Right now, the 2017-2018 school year is scheduled to end on June 29 and will have two Saturdays (April 28 and May 12) in which schools are in session. This is due to the substantial number of snow days Andover has had so far this year, which as of April 9 sits at ten.

A tree uprooted by wind brings down a power line on Salem Street in Andover. It was severe damage like this caused by the violent October storm that kept Andover Public schools closed for three days. (Photo by Oscar Bunting)

While specifics are still unclear, the main concept of the blizzard bag idea is that students would be able to complete a commensurate amount of their daily schoolwork at home on a day school is called off by either bringing home the work the previous day or completing it online. The point of this program is that the missed day would not have to be made up in late June or even on a Saturday.

According to a March 2018 report by Beverly Wicked Local, three towns in Eastern Mass. have put pilot blizzard bag plans into action for public schools, the most recent being Melrose in January 2018.  An NPR article published in December 2017 says that the idea originated in New London, N.H., back in 2009, and since then it seems more and more surrounding areas have adopted it every year.

Of course, there are many issues that arise with the blizzard bag proposition. Principal Conrad suggested that a storm like October’s, which, according to an NECN report, left around 80 percent of Andover’s residents without power, would prevent an online-based blizzard bag program. The majority of students would not be able to connect to the internet and therefore have no way of accessing their assignments.

There are some teachers at AHS who oppose the idea. One such faculty member, history teacher Mr. Bach, stated, “Blizzard bags are not a suitable replacement for classroom contact time. The distinct activities that students complete independently for homework and in a classroom of their peers…are not interchangeable for a variety of reasons.” Instead of implementing blizzard bags, Bach proposed the thought of starting school earlier or just continuing to make the days up later on like schools will this year.

There are also people at the high school who have mixed feelings about the subject. “Blizzard bags could be helpful, but they do not replace time in a classroom with a teacher,” said Ms. Robb, who teaches history as well. Regarding advantages of blizzard bags, Robb stated that they can “compensate for one or two missed days.” However, the disadvantage would be “folks believing that at-home assignments can take the place of time in a classroom with a qualified teacher.”

According to Berman, the Andover School District will be reviewing blizzard bags among other things this summer. A measure that has already been taken to try to prevent Saturday school at least for the very near future is starting the 2018-2019 school year before Labor Day (August 29), four days earlier than 2017-2018.

There has been some discussion of the possibility of Andover seeking the elimination of three school days that were canceled in October due to a damaging storm that caused extensive power outages throughout Andover and neighboring towns. When asked about this rumor, Berman said, “At this point, [Andover] hasn’t asked for waiver for the three days in October that we were out due to a loss of power…. I believe the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would need to come up with a solution that applied to all districts rather than just one district.

By Oscar Bunting