We asked, you answered: Your ‘blizzard bag’ responses

We asked, you answered: Your ‘blizzard bag’ responses

Your input will help guide our activism on this matter

In February, we asked MTA members for their thoughts on what the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education refers to as “alternative structured learning day programs” — otherwise known as “blizzard bags.”

The idea behind blizzard bags and similar programs is to provide an alternative to making up school days missed due to weather disruptions or other unplanned school closures. The MTA Board has some serious concerns about blizzard bags, but not everyone agrees.

To those of you who responded — via the form provided on the MTA website or on social media — thank you!

Your input will help guide our activism on this matter.

Read the New Business Item adopted by the Board in June 2018.

Your Responses

Amy Dyment, Reading Teachers Association
As both an online teacher and face-to-face teacher, I'm in favor of blizzard bags.

Sue Spollen, Tewksbury Teachers Association
I am in favor of blizzard bags as long as I can continue my already paperless curriculum. I do not want to develop extra/new materials for students. I would be available on snow days to answer email questions about online work they missed in class (a computer class).

Lindi DeLorio, Belmont Education Association
It sends the wrong idea that what a teacher does in the classroom can be summed up in a bag. What about differentiating? Scaffolding? Targeted instruction? That said, I like the idea if we go over five snow days.

Nicole Boussy, Marion Teachers Association
Blizzard bags are not a useful way to help students learn academics or address their social-emotional needs. Students may not have the appropriate level of support to complete work in the home if trained educators are not present to explain, teach and support. Parents and educators have not been involved in the discussion at this point in time.  

Ann Connelly, Hull Teachers Association
In a nutshell, I believe that going deep into the month of June for snow days is ridiculous, and if blizzard bags can cut it back, I am for it. However, I understand the MTA’s concerns. What probably needs to be looked at is a new calendar year, when we start, and how many vacations there should be.

Renee Gelin, Reading Teachers Association
Blizzard bags DO NOT provide a useful way to help students and prevent extending the school year. All students DO NOT have equitable access to completing work assigned as part of an alternative school day — including students with disabilities, English learners, vocational students, Advanced Placement students, and others. Teachers ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT provided with sufficient time, guidance and technology (if required) to develop and support blizzard bags. By definition, blizzard bags will have to be busywork. Parents cannot teach concepts and students cannot learn on their own. Practicing skills being taught currently would be great BUT that would require a new blizzard bag every snow day. Since teachers have zero minutes’ notice before a snow day is called, it is LITERALLY impossible to create meaningful "blizzard bags." Finally, there is a tremendous value in students having an unexpected and extra day off. They should help parents clean off walkways and they should PLAY in the snow or stay inside and play. They will be adults for 65 years but kids only for 18.

Amanda Pyne, Avon Education Association
I'm conflicted. I like the idea of seeking alternatives to making up missed days, especially in years in which we've had more than five snow days. However, you raise a lot of valid points about the difficulty of ensuring that students are receiving meaningful work with the support to complete it. There is also the issue of equity. As a teacher, I'll have to be "on call" for questions from students all day and will return to school to a pile of grading. Other staff will have a much lighter workload (if any), and will still receive credit for the missed day.

Denise Conry, Reading Teachers Association
I appreciate the concerns around equity and professionalism. There is no perfect answer, but one is better than the other. The makeup days in June are so extremely hot and miserable that very little learning is happening. As a math teacher, having a review packet that can be done on paper or online may not be the best alternative, but it is better than extending into the horrible heat of summertime.

Cathy Commito, Reading Teachers Association
I disagree with the use of blizzard bags, mostly for the question of equity for all students as well as the quality of instruction being put forward.

Jen Burns, Duxbury Teachers Association
I think that blizzard bags are a fantastic idea and I'm disappointed to see the union telling members not to accept them unilaterally. I believe blizzard bags definitely help prevent extending the school year unnecessarily. The learning that takes place in the winter is not the same learning that takes place when days are added on at the end of the year. Our district is piloting blizzard bags this year and all assignments have an SEL focus. This is a districtwide focus this year and therefore easily applied to the blizzard bags. Our district does not have an alternative approach; we add days on at the end of the year. Yes, all assignments were modified by special educators prior to being distributed. To allow for snow day responsibilities like plowing and shoveling that students might have, every person has two weeks to complete their work. All students were also given a paper copy around early December so that losing power wouldn't be an issue. Our members of the non-teaching staff and non-classroom teachers are given articles about social-emotional learning to read. After, they make comments about the articles and how they can connect it to their learning. Have parents been involved in the discussion? The School Committee has been instrumental in putting the idea together and the school council will be looking at its strengths/weaknesses. I don't believe this is a gateway to online education. All professionals in my building understand this is a good solution to a bad problem. I do not think teachers will be replaced by online education. After our first blizzard bag day, we have heard great things from teachers, parents and students. Teachers are reporting that students completed their work with enthusiasm and detail.

Keriann Zahoruiko, Reading Teachers Association
As a special education teacher, I do not support the idea of blizzard bags. Students with varying levels of special needs would be denied FAPE by having to work on grade-level materials at home without appropriate supports. “Appropriate education” for some students includes many scaffolds, accommodations and modifications, which could not be easily provided. Special educators and other service providers would then be responsible for making up services for students with less school days in order to do so. Students’ access to technology and adult support would also impact their ability to complete activities at home. This is NOT in the best interest of students.

Sarah Bielicki, Reading Teachers Association
I strongly believe blizzard bags would be useful, as a parent and teacher. I know that in June, when we are making up the days, minimal learning is happening. I also think that it is important family time to enjoy summer traditions and extracurricular activities. I strongly recommend we switch to this policy and know many other colleagues that do it in other towns. I’m willing to share more on this, too.

Diane Davis, Reading Teachers Association
I think for the most part it would be busywork. You can't continue what you are doing in the curriculum because you can't plan for snow days. I know that I wouldn't have a great one-day lesson that all my kids could figure out on their own and be responsible enough to do and hand in when they return. I'd vote no.

Claire Brady, Braintree Education Association
I think they are a good alternative to sitting in hot classrooms late in June. Kids are not doing much meaningful work after grades have closed. Alternative “bags” can squeeze in some learning that otherwise would be spent in less meaningful activities. In my building, specialists (math, reading, ELL, special ed) end up having to work outside of school hours to support students. I don’t think this will lead to replacing teachers. It’s a stopgap to meet the 180-day requirement.

Anna Wentlent, Reading Teachers Association
I am strongly opposed to blizzard bags. To begin with, they would be impossible to maintain with current and relevant coursework as students progress through the curriculum. That means they would most likely be filled with noncurricular busywork. Furthermore, students who are struggling academically, live in an unstable home, or assist with caring for younger siblings would be at a distinct disadvantage. Grading blizzard bags would only serve to widen the achievement gap.

Karen Tokos, Newton Teachers Association
I do not support the concept of blizzard bags in the context of cancellations due to winter weather.

Shelagh Conway, Acton-Boxborough Regional Education Association
I do not feel that they are appropriate for my students with significant disabilities. In Acton-Boxborough we do not have an alternative to making up snow days. Yes, my support staff do not get paid on snow days, and blizzard bags would result in a pay loss for them. Blizzard bags have not been discussed in a broad context yet in Acton-Boxborough. Yes, I worry that blizzard bags would result in a closer look at online educational packages.

Maureen Olivier, Mansfield Educators’ Association
No blizzard bags! I would rather make up days than have blizzard bags. Let a snow day be a snow day. Let our students spend time with their families doing something not formally structured. Let students play in the snow, go sledding, play a board game, bake cookies, or make a fun arts and crafts project. Let our students have a childhood! Please, MTA, do not support the idea of blizzard bags. Feel free to share my comments beyond this survey.

Amber Karlin, Somerville Teachers Association
I don't think all kids will be able to access the tech and the resources necessary and many will need help that teachers and aides normally provide. I also don't like the idea that a bag of busywork (or even quality assignments) is the equivalent of a full day of instruction. I get that it is bad to make up a bunch of snow days at the end of the year, and that June 30th year was awful, but I don't support this particular solution. I don't know if there's a better plan than just making up the days.

Denise Lamare, Duxbury Teachers Association
Great idea. My district (Duxbury) piloted blizzard bags this year. We just had our first "bag day." My fifth-graders thought it was great! They all came in with activities completed — enjoyed the "snow-themed" choices — we had SEL-themed choices — kids shoveled for neighbors/helped others — a WIN all around!

Eric Hiltz, Reading Teachers Association
I feel that the makeup days in June always end up being a waste of time because at that point in the year, students are disengaged from learning. Grades have already closed and many schools do not have air-conditioning that allows for optimal learning conditions. I understand the fear that blizzard bags could help further the idea that all education could be completed online, but feel that it is a huge leap to make from a couple of wasted makeup days to entire school careers being accomplished via the web. As a physical educator, I appreciate that on those snow days many of my students are spending much of the day outside participating in winter activities. I personally am in favor of a system that will end the wasted time of makeup days at the end of the school year that truly seem like an exercise in compliance with mandated days and hours, learning being the only end game, not actual time learning.

Eric Goldstein, Reading Teachers Association
Do you think blizzard bags provide a useful way to help students and prevent extending the school year unnecessarily? Absolutely I do. Does your school or district have an alternative approach to making up snow days? No. Do you believe all students have equitable access to completing work assigned as part of an alternative school day — including students with disabilities, English learners, vocational students, Advanced Placement students, and others? Of course not. Do you feel that teachers are provided with sufficient time, guidance and technology (if required) to develop and support the alternative school day program? My district does not offer blizzard bags, so no training is provided. How are members of the non-teaching staff affected or included in the alternative day — for example, counselors, nurses, and education support professionals? Not sure. Have parents been involved in the discussion? We haven't discussed this idea. Do you think that blizzard bags could be used to usher in “online education” and “competency-based” education schemes in your school? Absolutely not. Do you worry that some staff members at your school could be replaced by “alternative structured learning day programs?” Definitely no. I believe there is a large difference between online opportunities to prevent the school year from being extended in June and replacing teachers with computers. That is much too far of a stretch. I have heard from members in my association that this is a practical plan that helps students and teachers. The MTA should collect more data from members before deciding on an official position.

Laura Burrows, Bristol-Plymouth Teachers Association
I am actually a fan of the blizzard bag concept IF appropriate compensation/time is given by school districts to teachers to create them and evaluate their effectiveness. To limit chances that they could be misused as “alternative structured learning day programs,” I would limit to making four a year. It's enough to offset the need to make up some snow days but does not replace anyone or that person’s job. With climate change wreaking havoc on our Commonwealth in terms of constant, frequent snowstorms through winter and much of spring, there needs to be some way to keep districts from going past June 30 on the calendar.

George Nigro, Haverhill Education Association
If there is a limit on how many days would have to be planned out. I know NH uses this system with a limit of five days for blizzard bags. Hey, if it saves us from getting out later in June, it's a good idea.

Kathy Clougherty, Kingston Teachers Association
This is a bad idea. Technology is not a substitute for a human who instructs and continuously assesses. Kids won’t have the support to carefully work in this manner. The prep for this will be put on the shoulders of core academic teachers and that’s not fair.

Nelsy Peppler, Educational Association of Worcester
I like the idea of blizzard bags if they are formed, used, implemented and the process evaluated correctly. I also like the idea of using them to reduce the number of snow days to make up. Like any program, all stakeholders' input needs to be involved. The bags should also be thought out carefully and time given to properly plan the contents, expectations, grading, and gathering of data to prove effectiveness. They should not be seen as an alternative but simply supplemental. It is proven that the last days of school are not being used effectively, and if we could do something to lessen the extension of them, then perhaps we need to look closely at alternatives. Also, many districts are using Google classroom, where more direct instruction can take place remotely. Perhaps this type of work could be included in the blizzard bag. Another idea might be to add time to the school day? I am not sure what the answer is, but I definitely feel something should happen about the amount of snow days that occur every year.

William Miskinis, Littleton Educators Association
Blizzard bags are actually just busywork assignments pretending to be substantive educational experiences. Blizzard bags place calendars and convenience before actual student learning.

Kellie Ciavola, Springfield Education Association
I don’t think blizzard bags are a good idea. Kids need to be in school to learn. That’s why we push for attendance so much. I also feel like there is a large number of families that may have difficulties doing all the work with their kiddos, especially if they have multiple kids at home in different grades. A second problem is that not all students have equal access to completing work assigned, depending on language barriers, special needs, hearing-impaired and English learners. It’s our job to teach, and that’s why our kids come to school!

Emily Delisi, Beverly Teachers Association
Although it would be nice to not have to make up snow days in June, I am against blizzard bags. The concept completely undermines the teaching I do every day in the classroom. Since I teach math, there is no way I could have blizzard bags prepared ahead of time, because we are working on new content every day. A blizzard bag prepared in September would not be relevant in January, for example. Overall, blizzard bags set a dangerous precedent. It says that students can get a rigorous, high-quality education at home without a teacher present, which any teacher knows is not the case.

Leisel Smith, Burlington Educators’ Association
I think blizzard bags are a very effective way to allow families and educators to stick to the original school calendar and make concrete plans for family vacations or enrichment opportunities or child care. They need to be flexible in their requirements and due dates, though. And if a student isn't already scheduled for non-teaching staff interaction, it doesn't seem appropriate to add on more work. Those staff members just need to document their time “on-call”/email.

Molly Millay, Amherst-Pelham Education Association
I don’t see any way to make this equitable. Children who have access and family support to be able to actually do the makeup work are most likely the kids who need it least. SE, EL, and RTI students who get support at school to do work would be unlikely to get that same level of support at home, and it seems unlikely that a generic “bag” would have all the differentiation necessary to accommodate their needs. It also means less days that students who rely on free breakfast and lunch would get their meals.

Mary Henriksen, Hull Teachers Association
First, there is no educational alternative that can replace or substitute for a teacher and a classroom setting. That said, it is also a health and safety issue to be extending the school year in classrooms with no air conditioning where temperatures have been recorded at 100 degrees and higher! If blizzard bags can keep us from getting into that situation, I think they should definitely be used.

Lisa DiPersio, Medford Teachers Association
I love the idea! I think it is reasonable to make up two to five snow days, but then use blizzard bags for other days if we exceed the limit. The assignments can have a due date in the future, so kids get to go out and enjoy the snow if they want. Online and hard-copy versions should be available. I think parents would appreciate knowing a definite “end date” for the school year.

Lee Delzingo, Somerville Teachers Association
I feel blizzard bags are just “busywork” that kids would do at home to make the snow day count. I worry because many of my students don’t have computers or iPads at home so some of this work would get done using a small cellphone screen or not at all. The work sent home would have to be simple review work because my students don’t have family around that would help with work. It would be far less meaningful than a day of learning in school.

Rachel Gould, Burlington Educators’ Association
For older students in high school, with AP exams that won’t be delayed, doing work on a snow day has always been expected.

Nichole Ruggles, Petersham Educational Association
We have been using them for three years now, K-12. We love them. I disagree with your “new business item“ statement. I have no worries about any of the concerns mentioned in this post. Parents were involved in the discussion and had a role in the design of our “flurry folders.”

Lori Silveira, New Bedford Educators Association
The debate on blizzard bags assumes that Massachusetts school districts with excessive snow will fall behind academically or be in school until the last day in June. Are these schools failing? How many times have they approached July 1 for EOY? Parents must be included for sure. Blizzard bags would not be wise for a large percentage of our state. The question of tech vs. teacher is a true concern as well. The bulk of instruction should be occurring in a real classroom with real teachers.

Cindy McCabe-Holmes, Dighton-Rehoboth Regional Teachers Association
To make blizzard bags would be making up a totally different lesson plan each time we have a snow day. I could see it on those rare occasions when we have lots of days out, but a day or two — not worth it. Not to mention, my students would be saying, "I didn’t get your e-mail” or “My power/internet was down." Paraprofessionals and probably some others would be missing out on a day of pay. What about kids who need PT or OT and such?

Sonja Cataldo, Norfolk Teachers Association
I think it’s a great initiative that can be effective when implemented correctly. I hope our school adopts it someday.

Deb Gesualdo, Malden Education Association
I am firmly against blizzard bags because I believe, for one, they are a step toward doing away with teachers in school buildings. Second, for our students who receive ESL and special education services, they are missing out on the crucial services that they receive from professionally licensed faculty and our ESPs. Third, any students who are economically disadvantaged are shut out of learning and denied FAPE by any blizzard bag activities that require special materials, electronics, internet access, etc. Blizzard bags are a bad idea.

Lori Cederquist, Stoughton Teachers Association
I think the first profession that will be eliminated if we embrace socialism will be educators. With Google and Google classroom, they could access all of my lesson plans free of charge. From objectives to exit tickets, there is no need to think or plan and I can totally see how I will and can be replaced. I wanted this a few years ago, but now I say NO! They will replace us with robots. Please fight against this and please fight for mandatory history courses!!!!!!

Teresa Barut, Hampshire Regional Education Association
Don't like the idea. Feel like it's extra busywork that teachers and kids don't want to do. I feel like our curriculum has been dumbed down the last couple of decades and this won't help!

Brian Fitzgerald, Wareham Education Association
Blizzard bags don't replace authentic instruction in person, but the learning they do provide in January is better than running out the clock in late June. Implement them after the first three or so snow days, and don't require internet access. It doesn't make sense to say that blizzard bags open the door to online learning any more than having substitute teachers does, or sending work home for a student who is ill.

Tim Mason, New Bedford Educators Association
Just like any content instruction, if it's done correctly it is valuable to the students. For example, we can now assign open-ended, higher-order thinking products and projects for students to produce remotely so they don't miss out on instruction, and put the skills learned in the classroom to work at home.

Mandy Breton, Haverhill Education Association
I think blizzard bags are an excellent idea in limited capacities. It is unrealistic to think that they can replace in-person learning, but they can be a fantastic way to keep momentum going for the occasional snow day. I believe they should be limited to three to five days, and the assignments should be meaningful and standards-based. To be honest, learning that occurs in a blizzard bag will be more meaningful than learning that occurs in a sweltering classroom in June while that day is made up.

Kelly O'Connor, Westhampton Teachers Association
I am opposed to blizzard bags. As a parent of a child with dyslexia and a speech language pathologist working in a public elementary school, I think blizzard bags do a huge disservice to students with disabilities, depriving them of the specialized support they need.

Sara Egan, Nashoba Regional Education Association
My school does not use them and has not yet proposed them. We do not have any creative methods of making up snow days aside from calling delays or early releases. It seems to me that blizzard bags are just busywork and do not provide any meaningful educational value. I am an educator. I plan lessons to educate my students and help them learn. I do much more than fill time with worksheets. It seems blizzard bags are just another way to check the box that says school was held without keeping the reason we are here in mind: to educate our students.

Anthony Parolisi, Haverhill Education Association
Awful idea. I can't teach from home. Students don't learn from home. Blizzard bags water down the curriculum.

Ray Albright, Reading Teachers Association
They are great. My thoughts are part of the Board meeting minutes.

Jude Haughey, Wrentham Teachers Association

Blizzard bags for K-three and four-12 remote learning. Parents work remotely a few days a week. It would be seamless for many families. I think flipping the classroom is a good idea with a backup snow bag for upper grades in case of power outage, internet issues, etc. If neither is completed — Saturday class — pay a group of teachers to teach eight-12.

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