IT IS August, so snow is not the first topic of conversation that comes to mind. But recent news about a school district’s decision to abolish snow days — mandating instead that students do assigned classwork online — is worth discussing. Not only that, it is something that other school districts should seriously consider.
Anderson County School District 5 in South Carolina announced last month that the district will be the first in the state to pilot an e-learning program for the upcoming school year that will eliminate makeup days caused by bad weather. When road conditions make it too treacherous for students to go to school, officials explained, students will be expected to complete assignments sent by teachers to students’ school-supplied Chromebooks.
Reaction, judging by comments on social media, has been decidedly mixed. Some observed that it’s easy for South Carolina to eliminate snow days since the state generally doesn’t get that much snow (never mind the policy would apply to other threatening weather). Others lamented that children shouldn’t lose the simple joy of waking up on a school day to the news of classes being canceled. “Let them enjoy sledding and building snowmen like we did back in the day,” one person tweeted.
We understand the sentiment but, at the risk of being seen as a killjoy, must point out it would be misguided to let nostalgia for a world that no longer exists (if it ever did) get in the way of doing things in a different way that produces better results. “With today’s technology, it makes so much sense,” Anderson Superintendent Tom Wilson said. Children can keep learning during snow days; meanwhile, costly and unproductive makeup days can be eliminated.
Schools that have experimented with online learning to replace snow days, such as Pascack Valley Regional High School District in northern New Jersey, which does get its fair share of snow, say it has proved to be worthwhile. Far better, Pascack Superintendent P. Erik Gundersen told us, than tacking on makeup days to spring break (poorly attended) or the end of the school year (worthless). He also said the practice helps prepare students for life by showing them how to balance family life with work responsibilities.
To be sure, there are challenging issues of cost, logistics and accessibility that would need to be worked out by schools, particularly those with large districts. But the benefits — foremost, added learning for students — make this policy one worthy of study and debate. And while they are at it, school administrators might also want to consider why the school calendar is still based on a world in which children needed the summer free to work on the family farm.