Now, thanks to this pandemic year and the advent of widespread distance learning, the city’s Department of Education has said there will be no more snow days. There will be distance learning instead.
What’s next? Broccoli on the ice cream truck? All-day adult swim?
In a country where most students have spent a year of school holed up in their homes, some without reliable WiFi or computers, the news drew strong opposition among many parents and caregivers. And some say that killing snow days is just, well, cold.
“This is preposterous,” says Nicholas Christakis, a Yale sociologist, physician, father of four and lifelong snow-day embracer. “As soon as you woke up, you knew because it was quiet outside. It was a suspension of ordinary life, such a wonderful experience as a human being,” he remembered. “These people are joyless bureaucrats. And you can quote me on that!”
Devan Sandiford lives in Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn with his wife and two boys, 6 and 9. Though they haven’t had a snow day in more than a year, they had them before. And those days were magical.
Sandiford, who grew up in Southern California near the desert, had only random “ash days” off from school, thanks to nearby fires. What fun is that? So when he gets the chance to split a snow day with his wife, depending on who has more work, he loves it. “They have all these different parts of the park where everyone is sledding, the families are out there talking,” he said.
Sure, snow days are a huge burden on parents. Especially for those who need to work and don’t have reliable child care. But if kids are distance learning on the days when the flakes are falling, the child-care issues are pretty much the same, or worse: the juggle, the passing back and forth among partners and family members. The stress of getting kids to concentrate on schoolwork while at home.
On a practical level, there is concern for the kids who could be left even further behind after a pandemic year without computers, tablets or reliable Internet service at home. Many children’s schools provided their students with devices during distance learning. Will they still have those come winter? What about the WiFi hotspots?
Snow days are “something to look forward to in the dark days of winter,” says Erin Berg, a federal employee who lives in the District and has a 4-year-old daughter. “I’m not confident if we did a snow day where they had to do the virtual thing that they could just concentrate. ... And there are a lot of barriers that have still not been solved. Are they going to keep devices at home? Who’s going to update them? If they can’t log in that day or Mom and Dad can’t be there to facilitate ... it’s all these things we still haven’t solved.”
Or, as New York City mother Morgan Lamb noted, who will ensure that her teenage son stays in his Zoom class if she has to go to the office? (Answer: No one.)
“One of my sore points in all of this is we’ve normalized this idea that working parents can work from home full-time and watch their kids full-time,” says Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, who works at the Migration Policy Institute, and lives in the District with her wife and two children, who are in pre-K and first grade. “There’s a difference between watching kids to make sure they’re fed and alive and watching kids to actually supervise their schoolwork.”
The last snow day she remembers, she and two other families banded together so each set of parents was responsible for taking six children for two hours at a time. “That’s how we got through the workday. You can’t do that when they all have to be on a different Zoom call.”
For many parents like her, it’s simply not doable. “We’re two moms. We work full-time. We have kids in two different schools with nine platforms between the two of them. I just can’t do it.”
And really, how much distance learning does a child want to do when the white stuff is falling and there are snowpeople to make, snow balls to throw, hills to tackle?
Having grown up in Michigan, Berg knows what her daughter would miss. “There’s definitely some nostalgia. Sleeping in, having the day to read or play in the snow. ... It’s just something fun and something to look forward to.” Her mother worked the night shift, so snow days were special for both of them.
“I understand that the pandemic has shown us as parents, students and educators that we must be open and flexible when it comes to education. I’m an educator myself, and I get it. But as a mom, I would hate to see snow days be canceled,” Sharisse Tracey, who grew up in Southern California and lives in Upstate New York, wrote in an email. For one thing, she and her 14-year-old son have hot cocoa dates on snow days.
“Our kids have less and less real down time these days, and even less opportunities to go outside and just be a kid,” she wrote. “A snow day is a perfect way to ensure they at least have the opportunity at some of that, whether they cuddle and snuggle at home in warm pajamas and hot chocolate or throw themselves face first down a mountain of snow. ... The laptops can always be powered up, but how often do our kids get to be powered down?”
Some parents have expressed an interest in letting children learn on snow days, because fewer days off could mean fewer days tacked on at the end of the school year, and because it seems children have already lost so much schooling during the pandemic. But will one day make a difference in the broader scheme of things?
“I don’t think this bespeaks the fall of Western civilization or anything,” says Christakis, who also is the author of the new book “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.” “But I do think kids are really structured. ... The kids don’t know how to cope, how to be bored. Here we are removing another opportunity for kids to learn to manage their time and fill it.”
Greene said he has always worked from home, so his snow days consist of pelting his teens with snowballs, or heading to the park with his younger children to sled. What they gain on a truly free, snowy day definitely outweighs another day at a computer, he says.
Sandiford agrees with that sentiment. Snow days “don’t happen a lot, so I feel like to have distance learning, it’s really too much. Just let Mother Nature have her day.”