The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Does the pandemic mean the end of snow days, too?

Sofie Patzer, 7, left, and Ava Chacos, 8, sled tandem down a hillside in Edgewater, Md., on March 21, 2018.
Sofie Patzer, 7, left, and Ava Chacos, 8, sled tandem down a hillside in Edgewater, Md., on March 21, 2018. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
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The snow-day ritual is an old and familiar one on the East Coast.

On the night of a snowstorm, kids put a spoon under their pillow, wear their pajamas inside out and flush ice cubes down the toilet — one for each inch of snow they’re hoping for.

But now that the pandemic has left many of us with no need to leave our houses for school or work, thanks to virtual learning, Zoom meetings and a completely digital life, will the coronavirus take the snow-day ritual away, too?

“Nooooooo,” moaned thousands of children (and adults) across the weather map’s blue zone in the Washington region Sunday night, as the snow piled up outside and most school districts swiftly declared no delays or closings, just business as usual.

I knew this was coming. We joked about this early on in my house, when remote learning first kicked in and the implications were clear. In the spring, my sons were overjoyed with their new three-foot commute from bed to desk, the lack of urgency in personal hygiene and all the other perks of the bedroom/classroom life.

“You know this means you’ll also never get a snow day again,” I warned.

“No, Mom. Schools wouldn’t do that to us. You know D.C. loves snow days,” they said.

We’re the butt of the nation’s jokes every time the federal government shuts down for at least 300,000 workers at a whisper of snowfall. Each of those snow days can cost taxpayers about $90 million.

Not this time.

“Federal offices in the Washington, DC area are OPEN and employees have the OPTION for UNSCHEDULED LEAVE OR UNSCHEDULED TELEWORK,” the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced on its website Monday.

So much for a day off for the federal workforce — and everyone connected to it.

“It’s a glorious D.C. tradition that shouldn’t be lost just because we all know how to work from home,” said Katie Glenn, a government affairs lawyer.

The same cold, hard digital reality visited students across the region as the snow accumulated Sunday and Monday.

“Virtual instruction will begin on time Monday, Feb. 1, 2021,” Montgomery County Public Schools tweeted.

“All Fairfax County Public Schools’ students will participate in virtual learning tomorrow, Monday, February 1,” the district’s website said.

Even in D.C., where schools were cleared to reopen for in-person instruction after a bitter dispute with the teachers union, the snow didn’t stop the learning.

“Due to weather conditions, all DCPS schools will be closed on Monday, February 1. Instruction will continue online, and ALL students should plan to learn virtually,” the District’s website announced.

Not only did the pandemic kill the prospect of a snow day in some places, but the uneven decision-making on school closures set up yet another disparity. Now there are haves and have-nots of snow days.

Some school districts canceled regular online classes but called out the faux snow day for what it is: a much-needed mental health day.

The school district in Wake County, N.C., did this last month when they announced an “asynchronous learning day” for just a dusting of snow. It meant there would be no regular classes, but teachers may ask students to do some assignments, a policy they will follow throughout the school year.

“Schools will take into consideration that winter weather and snow days are a time-honored celebration in our community and assign work accordingly,” the Wake County Public School System announced on their website last month. “While there will be requirements for work, families should expect to also have time to celebrate their own traditions.”

They get it.

“Kids and teachers need a mental health day,” said Shelly Kay, a retired kindergarten teacher in Michigan. She tweeted to school officials Sunday night, as snow began to fall on the state, urging them to call a snow day.

“Please, gift them this by understanding,” she wrote. “There is nothing so lovely as a snow day in the midst of a loooonngg dark winter.”

In suburban Philadelphia, one school called off class time, then called parents over the weekend.

“Her school left an amazing message reminding the kids to go and play,” said Christen Rexing, whose 8-year-old daughter got a snow day from the Rose Tree Media School District.

Rexing said she was delighted that the school decided not to lean on the ability to continue remote learning even as delicious piles of white fluff grew outside.

“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” she said. “Thankfully, my kid’s school is humane.”

She wasn’t so lucky — while her daughter played, she continued teaching her students at La Salle University, where online instruction continued despite the weather.

In my home, one son got a snow day; the other did not. Because of course they needed more things to cause strife.

They clashed again when Snow Day Boy stayed up late for yet another round of Overwatch while Gotta Go to School Kid had to go to sleep. And the morning was spent keeping Gotta Go to School from gifting the sleeping Snow Day with snowballs in his bed.

Snow days are an important break from the grind. So what if we do this, America: Let’s encourage schools and even the federal government to use one day every year as a mental health day.

It would be a surprise, either thanks to snow or too much rain or heat (to allow snowless Americans to experience the joy and exhale of an unexpected day off).

No makeup day necessary, no second-guessing the amount of snow or sleet on the ground. Just do it.

And no arguing over the amount of ice cubes flushed down the toilet.

Twitter: @petulad

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