As the season for wintry weather approaches, Superintendent LaTanya McDade has announced a new weather category for Prince William schools that could significantly reduce the number of school days lost to inclement weather: “Code Orange.”
On Code Orange days, schools will be closed to all students and teachers, just like on Code Red days. The difference is that on Code Orange days, students will be expected to do schoolwork remotely – or “asynchronously,” meaning without the help of a live teacher – when bad weather prevents schools from operating in person.
McDade announced the change in a letter emailed to parents Friday afternoon. In explaining the change, McDade cited the negative impact of the pandemic on student learning and the need to “maximize the time available to provide instruction for our students.”
“We have also made significant investments in technology support for our students, teachers, and staff,” McDade added. “These investments have provided the means to deliver instruction and work remotely, even when buildings may not be available for in-person learning.”
When schools closed in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the school division scrambled to purchase laptops and electronic tablets for all students and to adopt “Canvas,” an e-learning platform that would allow students to access and complete their schoolwork from home.
The school division operated mostly remotely throughout the 2020-21 school year, which is also when schools completed the task of ensuring that each student had the computer equipment and internet connection needed to attend school remotely.
The new policy won’t mean a total end to Code Red days, however, McDade said.
The school division will continue to use Code Red – meaning a halt to all school instruction and activities -- for days when the school division cannot ensure remote learning access, such as when inclement weather leads to the possibility of power outages.
Code Orange days will also likely be called when bad weather requires a late opening, most commonly a two-hour delay, because of the ongoing shortage in bus drivers, which would make delayed openings even more challenging than usual, McDade said.
“Due to the ongoing national shortage of bus drivers, PWCS continues to have a number of double and triple bus runs,” she wrote. “These runs make it logistically impracticable to have delayed openings.”
This year, while students are working asynchronously on Code Orange days, teachers will be expected to work from home on tasks such as grading assignments, planning and working on professional development. They will also be asked to provide time for students to “check in” with them as needed, McDade’s letter said.
Next school year, however, teachers could be expected to teach students “live” during remote instruction days. The move to asynchronous instruction during Code Orange days this year will enable teachers and schools to determine what improvements and adjustments might be needed to make that happen during the 2022-23 school year, McDade’s letter said.