'Snow days as we know them may be gone': How distance learning might cancel 'magical' ritual

Rachel Grumman Bender
·4 min read

With a major storm poised to hit the East Coast Wednesday through Thursday, educators and experts across the country are divided over whether snow days should be canceled this year in light of the fact that remote learning is an option for many students.

Several school districts throughout the country have been rethinking snow days. According to an Education Week Research Center survey conducted in November 2020, nearly 40 percent of principals and district leaders say their district has turned snow days into remote learning days, while another 32 percent report their districts are considering doing the same.

Some schools are canceling snow days

For example, the New York State Department of Education announced a pilot program for the 2020-2021 school year that would allow schools to “pivot to remote instruction to provide continuity of instruction on what would otherwise be a day of school closure due to a snow emergency,” according to a September 2020 memo sent to school district superintendents and leaders. At the end of the school year, the Department of Education will review how the pilot program went before deciding whether to continue it in the future.

Meanwhile, in Omaha, Nebraska, after providing students in public schools with iPads in November, the school district ended snow days entirely. Omaha students are expected to log into their devices on what would normally be a snow day, with teachers taking attendance.

“One of the few advantages of the conversion to distance learning as a result of COVID last spring and this fall is the ability to quickly adjust to remote learning in the event of a huge snow,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tells Yahoo Life. “So snow days as we know them may be gone. And while distance learning is not a substitute for in-person learning, we must use all the tools we have to keep kids learning.”

However, just because children are home — whether or not it’s a snow day — doesn’t mean they have reliable internet access to attend school online. “We must not forget that the digital divide is bigger than ever,” says Weingarten. “So, as quickly as schools are to eliminate snow days and use distance tools, the real need [is] to address the inequities of the digital divide, which requires internet for all students and appropriate equipment.”

Snow days are ‘essential,’ say some experts

While some educators are advocates for at-home learning when schools are closed due to inclement weather, other experts say that snow days are “essential.” Although New Jersey state guidelines were revised under the pandemic to hold online classes on what would have been a snow day, according to NJ.com, Karen D’Avino, a superintendent in Vernon’s K-12 district, wrote in a letter to parents that “‘snow days,’ in my opinion, are essential for students, especially our younger ones. When it snows, and it will, and we have a true snow day with no virtual learning, please encourage your children to play in the snow.”

A woman pulls her child on a sled in heavy snow in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S. February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
As the East Coast readies for a winter storm, educators and experts are divided over whether snow days should be canceled this year in light of remote learning. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid).

Some experts say that snow days also provide some mental health benefits to both students and teachers. “The snow days are even more important this year because both teachers and kids can take a moment to breathe, to sleep in, and to give themselves permission to engage in something other than school work,” psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Life. “Every educator and child that I know is particularly stressed this year, either spending all day in the hybrid model or staring at the computer. So I think it’s more important this year than others.”

Greenberg adds: “Having a snow day is a little mental health gift that I think everyone deserves.”

Dr. Lea Lis, an adult and child psychiatrist, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “Snow days are magical — we all remember them from our childhood! They’re a time of random, unexpected joy and pleasure. There’s the opportunity to go sledding or make a snowman instead of being inside on Zoom calls all day. Plus, if it’s snowing hard enough, parents and other siblings may have the time off — the whole family can bond together. This is very beneficial for mental well-being.”

Snow days are also a good way to catch up on sleep, “which is good for the brain and cognitive development,” says Lis. “In fact, some studies have found that during the pandemic, more people are experiencing ‘COVID-somnia’ and other sleep troubles — plus more anxiety and depression. Kids and teachers are overworked and overtired — they deserve the few days off they get per year.”

In addition, Lis tells Yahoo Life that getting outside and being active, especially during the winter, is a “healthy idea.” “Virtual school may have less physical education options because everyone is home on Zoom without running around a gymnasium or outdoor track,” Lis says. “Kids can take the snow day as an opportunity to get their heart rates up.”

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