School introduces AMI days as alternate snow days for students


Leilany Zarco, Staffer

As the winter season approaches, there is common anticipation among students: snow days. However, this year’s snow days may look quite different due to the introduction of AMI days. AMI stands for Alternate Methods of Instruction, or to put it simply, virtual school days. AMI days are a statewide plan approved by the Missouri Department of Education (DESE) to limit the number of days that have to be made up at the end of a school year.

“A district shall not be required to make up any hours of school lost or canceled due to exceptional or emergency circumstances during a school year if the district has an alternative method of instruction plan approved by the department of elementary and secondary education for such school year,” the DESE said on their website.

This plan allows a school to use five snow days as virtual days so that those days don’t have to be added to the end of the school year. However, after those five days are used up, any additional missed days will have to be made up. Right before winter break, the district made changes to the rest of this year’s school calendar, adding days to accommodate for potential AMI days.

“I think it’s a difficult decision, but ultimately, people will have made plans at the end of the year. Without the AMI days, you are asking people who have made plans for vacations and things like that to change their plans. We don’t want students to have to miss out on their field days and end-of-the-year celebrations because they schedule plans for May 27 and school ends up getting out later than that. It is just a measure we have to try to keep a static schedule,” Assistant Principal Kristina Martin said.

AMI days are not just reserved for inclement weather. With the Omicron variant outbreak and the rise of Covid cases after winter break, there is a new possibility of using an AMI day for Covid related reasons. The outbreak has led many schools in the KC area including Olathe, Independence, and Belton to implement AMI days. The district is now facing uncertainty about potential virtual days.

“It’s not just teachers, we are having to run the numbers of bus drivers, kitchen workers, custodians, it’s not just teachers, it’s the staffing that needs to be recognized as well because they are doing so much hard work. I think we operate with eleven or twelve workers in the kitchen, and now we only have six or seven. I know that in the middle school, there are three kitchen workers for the entire school. It’s insane,” Martin said.

On January 19, the district sent an email updating the community of possibilities of moving to short-term virtual learning. In the email, they explained that this transition would begin in high school and slowly add in the lower education levels if necessary.

“The reason is that typically, high school students can take care of themselves. Meanwhile, younger elementary students can’t take care of themselves, so parents have to scramble to make plans, and it causes a larger disruption to the community,” Martin said.

Not only is virtual learning difficult for younger students, but older students struggle as well. For some students, a year of online learning was overwhelming and harmful for their education.

“But I honestly don’t think that I would get any work done. I would get distracted because I could just eat or play on my phone instead. I think eventually I would get my homework done, but probably not until later at night,” senior Virginia Pietschmann said.

This process would look different for everyone. Virtual learning would require the staff, teachers, and students to adopt a new schedule.

“I would get to wake up later, so that’s nice. I think the first class starts at 8:15, so I would wake up around 8. My teachers have said that we would have to sign onto a Google meeting for each class, at a certain time for each class. So I would just check in to Google meet for each class,” Pietschmann said.

After last year, each teacher has adopted their own method for virtual instruction. Therefore, the teaching methods may differ depending on the age, subject, and preferences of the teachers. Likewise, the expectations for students on AMI days will vary.

“Well, I’m not going to be getting up as early, but I am still going to have to be 30-40 minutes ahead of my students, making sure all the Google Meets work, all the assignments are published, and that all of the work I had planned could work remotely,” English teacher Steve Meek said.

AMI days would not look like a regular day of instruction in the sense that the students would be required to engage with their teacher for less time.

“My students can turn off their mic and camera, but I ask them to stay in the meeting in case they have any questions. But I don’t plan on sitting there and talking at them for 40 minutes,” Meek said.

In the uncertain times of the Covid pandemic, it is hard to know what to expect moving forward. The district is taking action every day to predict the absences of students and staff, and make plans accordingly.

“I don’t think our situation right now is imminent, but it is important to share the information regarding the state of our district and to inform people that yes, there is a possibility to shut down,” Martin said.

So far, the district has not used any AMI days. However, the winter season is still in session and the Covid cases are still relevant, so the district is making sure to be prepared for anything.