Today marks the one-month anniversary of a very unusual snow day for all FRCC campuses, which took place during the first Wednesday of classes, January 18th. The administration did not follow the typical snow day procedures that it had stuck to in past years, instead informing teachers in an email that “in order to minimize the impact on instruction and student services, we decided to shift to remote operations instead of closing fully.”
An email sent out by FRCC president Dr. Colleen Simpson announcing this change to instructors explained that “impacting the first day of classes for Monday/Wednesday classes and limiting students’ ability to register for classes for this spring weighed heavily in our decision-making [for the remote snow day].”
A handful of faculty, who all wished to remain anonymous, did not feel very positively about the situation when interviewed about it. However, the administration stands by their decision.
More on the administration’s perspective below.
“I have a Wacom tablet to teach math that lets my students see me write math on the screen,” Instructor W said. “I had to cancel the rest of the class half-an-hour in because of all the equipment I had hooked up began to fail.”
They also described their initial reaction to the announcement that had been sent out by administration, explaining that “[what] was a little challenging was that I received the notification at 5:45 pm, and I taught a night class until 8 pm.”
They then continued that they did not have “any time to test any of my equipment between 8 pm and 8 am [when the class that had been canceled starts]. My computer ended up not being able to handle the amount of load I was putting on it.”
Another teacher, Instructor X, adapted differently to the remote situation, answering that they adapted to the snow day by “moving the content online and giving students an alternative asynchronous assignment. I refused to do Zoom.”
Instructor Y did not set up a Zoom meeting for their class that day either, because they were “concerned with accessibility for students.”
Other teachers, however, adapted quite well to the snow day situation despite its relative suddenness.
One such staff member, Instructor Z, answered that they were “able to basically have an online class via Zoom where I went over the whole syllabus and the whole course. I recorded the Zoom, and half of the class showed up. I put it up [on D2L] for those who weren’t there.”
This same faculty member, when asked how they feel about this exception in the snow day policy, answered that “[it] was better to do that than make students come to campus. From my perspective, it wasn’t too difficult to set up a remote class.”
They did express in addition, however, that “if instructors had to do more labor because of this, … I think they should be compensated for that.”
One Instructor W expressed frustration over this exception.
“My understanding is that if the campus is closed, they would just cancel classes,” Instructor W said. “So this shift was not in accordance with our school policies. We tried our best, but I was frustrated the experience was not good for students. We’re happy and able to adapt, but we need enough time to do so.”
More on the administration’s perspective below.
Instructor X similarly harbored negative feelings toward the situation:
“I do not approve of this policy for the first day of classes,” Instructor X said. “[The administration have] told us they can’t require synchronous [remote] classes because it’s an issue of access. People who take in-person classes may not have access to a private space to take a class. … People took in-person classes for a reason.”
Instructor Y negatively recalled the contrast between the exception and the regular procedure.
“Within a week, we all got mixed messages on the [remote] procedure,” Instructor Y said. “They tell us on one day ‘if you’re closed, you’re closed’, but then tell us the next day, ‘we’re not closed.’ … To be fair, it was the first day of classes, but that also then made it harder to tell us that we needed to go online.”
Instructor X also expressed another issue with the exception made for that snow day.
“Students with children at home will likely have to care for them in the event of a snow closure, as those children are also likely to have a snow day,” Instructor X said. “Asking our students to coordinate zoom classes, take care of children, and potentially coordinate their children’s remote learning as well seems like too much to ask.”
Clearly, an issue with access was the primary concern for the faculty who could not adapt to this snow day well, though child care concerns provided yet another major issue. These issues caused some of these faculty to forgo setting up a Zoom meeting that some students might have trouble connecting to.
Despite these issues, the possibility of the administration changing the snow day policy loomed over them.
Instructor W “[hoped] they will stick to their official policy and not change things at the last minute again.”
Instructor X expressed that hosting a meeting remotely was different from teaching remotely and hoped, “this is an option that we only use when extremely necessary.”
Meanwhile, Instructor Y argued, “it sets a precedent [for this to happen again], which I don’t think is useful.”
Instructor Z, who adapted to the snow day well, remarked a more positive outlook on this situation, however: “I’m not sure this is gonna be an option for all snow days moving forward. That’s probably not the case because it was the first day of class.”
After the interviews with all of these faculty members, Vice President of FRCC’s Westminster Campus, Dr. Tricia Johnson, gave her side of the story. She provided insight that the remote snow day was called because it was the first day of classes and that administration had not felt it beneficial to cancel classes, and that it had not been an easy decision to make.
She also said that Monday and Wednesday classes have more enrollment than classes held the other days of the week, and that the first day of class helps inform students on whether or not they want to drop the class, which does have a certain day students can do it up to.
“Weather calls are my least favorite part of the job,” Johnson emphasized.
When asked about the many negative responses from faculty members over this controversial snow day, she acknowledged that people are not always prepared for snow days, and that influenced the decision for making the call for the remote snow day as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, she explained that the decision had come twelve to thirteen hours earlier than regular decisions, when, at other times, some previous snow day decisions had been made the morning of a canceled class.
Finally, Dr. Johnson was asked about the possibility of a snow day like this occurring again in the future.
She explained that “[the] college leadership is reviewing our inclement weather policy for what makes the most sense moving forward.” She further explained that Front Range was not the only campus that had made a decision like this because it had been the first week of classes.
The instructors who had been interviewed previously were asked to give their opinion on this new development, and the possibility of all snow days going remote from now on that was implied by Dr. Johnson’s response. This prompted primarily negative responses from them.
Instructor Z answered in reaction that, “it depends on how much support they will provide for instructors and faculty. Expecting instructors to be able to move their classes to remote delivery with short notice should not be a norm unless they are compensated for their effort and provided with technical support or whatever else they need.”
Instructors X and Y answered in a joint email that they “would still have concerns about accessibility in terms of snow days being remote by default in the future. The same issues we brought up in regard to having the first day this term as a synchronous remote class still apply – child care concerns, internet access (especially during a weather event), etc. Students may have elected to take an in-person class due to these concerns, and to require them to have access to a variety of modalities is problematic.”
This Wednesday yielded another exception to the snow day policy: “Employees and students will shift to remote work and learning for all classes.” This time, however, it is not an exception as much as an application of a brand new snow day policy, released by the administration the same month as the second snow day of the semester had occurred.
Faculty are now “encouraged to move to asynchronous assignments” or online meetings, and only extreme circumstances will cause the administration to fully cancel classes. While the administration does acknowledge some of the challenges it will take for some classes, such as those involving labs, to move remotely, it seems that they have made what was once a one-time exception, just for the first day of the semester, into a new standard procedure. It remains to be seen whether this new policy will come to be embraced by faculty, or if it will continue to be the object of scorn and derision.
- February 20th, 2023: A previous version of this article incorrectly labeled a number of statements by Dr. Tricia Johnson as exact quotes. In reality, they were paraphrased. This has now been corrected.
Other articles that give readers a peek behind the curtain at what’s going on at FRCC.