URBANA — Ella Dennis was a student at Downers Grove North High School when it tried to pilot remote instruction during “snow days.”

Years later, she’s a sophomore at the University of Illinois, and her district’s dream is realized.

Faced with a forecast of at least a foot of snow, the UI held firm Tuesday: Classes aren’t canceled. They just won’t be in person for the next few days.

“We hope and expect that faculty and instructors will move in-person classes to an online format for the rest of the week,” Chancellor Robert Jones and Provost Andreas Cangellaris wrote in a mass email. “In cases where this transition is not feasible, we strongly encourage you to make alternative educational experiences available to your students.”

With the advancement of remote learning during COVID-19, will the words “snow day” ever recover their magic for students?

“I doubt it,” Dennis said. “I think all of us were expecting classes to be on Zoom since that’s the new norm. For a lot of my classes, even if they didn’t meet in person, I’d have to do work for them anyway.”

UI employees are encouraged to work from home if permitted by their units, to reduce campus traffic and let Facilities and Services crews plow campus streets, lots and sidewalks.

Area school districts are responding a tad more conservatively to this week’s predicted weather: Some are opting for at least one day of remote learning, with either virtual or take-home materials for students, and are leaving Friday up to the forecast.

The Champaign and Urbana school districts are shifting to remote instruction today. They’ll use official snow days for any additional days out of school.

Rantoul City Schools — which closed Pleasant Acres Elementary late last week due to high COVID-19 transmission — will go remote today and trigger a snow day Thursday, while the Mahomet-Seymour and Danville districts are simply canceling classes both days.

“If the projections for Friday’s temperatures continue to be as hazardous as forecasters predict, we will use one e-learning day on Friday,” Danville Superintendent Alicia Geddis told families. “That decision will be made Thursday afternoon.”

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Nearby higher-ed institutions aren’t going for remote learning quite yet. Both Illinois State University and Parkland College canceled today’s classes entirely. ISU won’t hold classes again Thursday; Parkland will make a decision on that this afternoon.

The last time the UI canceled classes on the basis of weather was Jan. 30, 2019, when the National Weather Service predicted historically low temperatures at the end of the month. Classes were canceled after 6 p.m. Jan. 29 and all day Jan. 30.

Salt was applied on campus roads and sidewalks starting Tuesday night, and snow removal was due to start early this morning, with priority given to 24-hour facilities, primary building entrances, service areas and ramps for accessibility, said Ehab Kamarah, interim director of Facilities and Services.

Certain priority parking lots — E-14, next to State Farm Center, where the No. 18 Illini are scheduled to host No. 11 Wisconsin tonight; F-27, near the College of Veterinary Medicine; and the top levels the B-4 garage at the corner of University and Mathews avenues — will be “cleaned first and regularly maintained.”

As the UI goes to essential operations only, several campus buildings — like the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, Krannert Art Museum and all campus libraries — will be closed today.

Its SHIELD COVID-19 testing sites are closed today, too, and only the Illini Union’s site has a chance of opening Thursday afternoon for those who still require testing.

Those who fall out of testing compliance while the sites are closed won’t be disciplined.

The Activities and Recreation Center will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Thursday, but all other campus recreation facilities will be closed and programs have been canceled.

Previously scheduled events on campus will be left up to organizers and venues to decide on going ahead. The Daily Illini won’t deliver this week’s print edition, which usually comes out on Wednesdays, until Friday morning.

“We know the emergency transition to online classes and essential operations will bring challenges to everyone. Until the potentially dangerous weather situation has cleared, please let health and safety considerations — both your own and others — guide your decisions and actions,” Jones and Cangellaris wrote.

Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is esimmons@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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