What is the future of snow days when kids are remote learning during the pandemic?

Kids and teens enjoying a snowball fight during a snow day
Photo via dcsplicer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This winter, New York City saw its first massive snow storm in years. Pre-pandemic, such an occurrence would likely merit school cancellations. Normalcy has largely been redefined as the country adapts to the coronavirus pandemic, however, leading many schools to shift from in-person education to virtual learning. Many students are now attending classes via computers and online platforms like Zoom. Does this mean the end of snow days

According to New York’s Department of Education, it does. The department claims that students will have to maximize online learning opportunities in order to meet the state’s guidelines and its 180-day instruction requirement. 

“With a powerful winter storm on the way, we’re going to CANCEL in-person learning for @NYCSchools on Thursday, December 17,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in a Dec. 16 tweet. “I know we all grew up with the excitement of snow days, but this year is different. Tomorrow will be a FULL REMOTE learning day for our students. School buildings will be closed tomorrow. That means in-person Learning Labs and Learning Bridges will be canceled too, as will in-school COVID-19 testing and our free meal service for tomorrow.”

Many snow-prone states are opting to follow in New York City’s footsteps, recognizing virtual learning as an effective way to make up for lost instruction time and ensure curriculum continuity. “We said, ‘Wow, this could really be a solution for us for snow days in the future,'” Robb Malay, a school superintendent who oversees seven districts in southern New Hampshire, told the New York Times

Other states were prepared before the winter months arrived. Denver schools shifted to full online learning in late October, and officials in Omaha announced in November that “heavy snow no longer will lead to canceled classes.”

According to USA Today, Education Week, a news organization that covers K-12 education, surveyed school administrators and district leaders nationwide last month. It found that 39% switched snow days to virtual learning days and 32% were still considering making the change.

There are some schools that are not so ready to take away the nostalgia and excitement of waking up to news of a snow day. “Snow days are chances for on-site learners and virtual learners to just be kids by playing in the snow, baking cookies, reading books and watching a good movie,” New Jersey’s Mahwah Township Public Schools—a district that reportedly has about 3,000 students—wrote in an email addressed to parents in October. “These are times for memory-making, and we believe these types of opportunities should remain intact.” 

The district has plans to adopt a hybrid of in-person and online schooling.

Neshaminy School District in outer Philadelphia will also continue to have snow days, provided that it will not force the school year to be lengthened.

In Massachusetts, Holbrook Public School District Superintendent Julie Hamilton provided support for maintaining snow days. “Teachers in Holbrook come from over 40 other towns which could lead to inconsistency around our ability to run remote instruction if those towns experience power outages,” she told USA Today.

Despite the number of hold-out districts still clinging to the observance of snow days, they are likely to disappear in many areas. Due to the huge impact the virus has had on the school year and the advancements made to school procedures, the future will most likely see far fewer snow days, at least while the coronavirus pandemic lasts.

An option worth considering, which could let kids enjoy winter days without sacrificing quality education, might be adjusting to more flexible work schedules. Millard Public Schools in Omaha reportedly renamed their snow days “e-learning days,” wherein students follow their own study timetable and teachers will be available to provide tasks and answer questions.

“There is no set time everyone will Zoom in together,” Millard district spokesperson Rebecca Kleeman told Omaha World Herald back in October. “So if you want to sleep late or go build a snowman, you can. You just have to get the work done on your own schedule.”

Sources: ABC New York, Twitter, The New York Times, Chalkbeat Colorado, Omaha World Herald [1, 2], USA Today, CBS New York

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