When I was younger, I often wished as hard as I could for snow days. Snow days are commonly incorporated into a school system’s calendar to allow students to meet the required number of learning days required by a town, city or state education standard.
When there was bad weather that prevented safe travel to school, the added days were an added relief to kids. The good thing about a snow day was that there was no work and fresh snow for making snowmen or going sledding, which was a winning combination for a kid.
As students return to school for the 2021-2022 school year, few students, if any, are now thinking about snow days. However, calendars for the 2021-2022 school year are being finalized as we speak and snow days are a debatable topic for areas of the United States that experience severe winter weather, such as snow, ice, wind, and freezing rain.
If there is no hazardous weather during the calendar year, the snow days are not used and the school year ends on the prescribed date. But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a new perspective on academic calendar planning and student instruction during inclement weather.
Are Snow Days Only Used in the United States?
Our neighbors to the north and the south have differing views when it comes to snow days. In Canada, there’s a push to replace snow days – which can be in excess of 10 calendar days a year – with virtual learning.
In Mexico, plans for the next school year have already been released, which includes 200 in-person school days. Snow days are not mentioned, primarily because Mexico rarely has any snowfall.
However, each area of our country or the world has some type of environmental hazard that can halt student learning at a moment’s notice. As a result, the term “snow days” have expanded to accommodate last-minute emergencies and can include other challenges to education, such as problems with central heating/cooling systems, power outages, and teacher strikes.
Will Snow Days Become Obsolete?
The concept of snow days has been used for over 70 years. Snow days are a way to put the safety of the students and staff above the need to assemble in classrooms for in-person learning. There are some portions of the United States where school districts have incorporated up to 14 school days for snow days, which extends the school year depending on whether or not those snow days are used.
So while the concept of snow days may not go away completely, how a school district approaches the use of snow days varies. School districts are debating this issue now, as school will commence in just a few weeks for most public schools across the country.
Most school districts use Labor Day to gauge the official start of the new year. However, some school districts have made accommodations to start classes in mid-August to allow for students to acclimate to the in-person learning environment.
For some, the snow day will be replaced with a virtual snow day. The New York City Department of Education, involving the country’s largest school district, canceled snow days when it announced its new 2021-2022 school year calendar.
According to the NYC Department of Education website, “On ‘Snow days’ or days when school buildings are closed due to an emergency, all students and families should plan on participating in remote learning.” However, remote learning relies on all students and teachers having an internet connection, which may be affected during a weather-related event.
In some cases, teachers can be proactive and provide independent study for students by giving out take-home assignments prior to a major weather event such as a blizzard. Similarly, students may not be available during a catastrophic event, like the 2021 Texas ice storm that caused widespread power outages. But not all emergencies like snowstorms and floods are predictable.
A requirement to learn virtually at a moment’s notice may cause some students to be left behind if they do not have the internet, technology and resources to effortlessly switch from in-person to virtual learning. Also, there may be challenges for teachers to instruct if their teaching is coupled with parenting children in the virtual environment.
Can E-Learning Replace Snow Days?
In Naperville, Illinois, district officials have developed a plan allowing students and teachers to continue their coursework virtually in the event of severe weather or other emergencies that would have previously canceled school. The plan requires all students to engage in five hours of asynchronous remote instruction, offering flexibility for families who may not be able to attend live lessons due to child care restrictions, connectivity issues or other limitations. Early childhood and elementary classes would start the day with a virtual morning meeting to give kids a chance to check in with teachers.
Enrichment Days Are Here to Stay
The Houston Independent School District (ISD) Board of Education added 15 enrichment days for children to adjust due to the pandemic. According to the LeaderNews, “The calendar included 15 additional academic days to help address learning gaps caused by COVID-19. These additional days were added to the calendar after input from teachers, parents, students and educational experts. The 15 days are marked as enrichment days on the printed version of the calendar.”
The Health Benefits of Snow Days
Snow days have shown additional benefits to human health, including reducing the number of common colds, flu, and other respiratory diseases. The Seattle Flu Study began during the 2018/2019 influenza season and is a Seattle-area surveillance project aimed at evaluating city-level transmission of influenza and other respiratory pathogens.
The study concluded that short-term, high-intensity social distancing measures have significant impacts to public health by decreasing contact rates and the total number of respiratory virus infections. So snow days not only offer a mental break for students and teachers, but there are potential health benefits as well.
Snow Days Can Be Catch-Up Days with Virtual Learning
They may not be called snow days any more, but school districts are attempting to build days off and breaks into the calendar. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, for instance, will allow the community to vote on the 2022-23 school year calendar, including the dates for spring break and when students would return from the winter holiday break.
Many schools have considered alternative ways to help students catch up with their studies, including:
- Using snow days as catch-up days
- Extending the hours of in-person learning, including school on Saturday
- Shortening traditional holiday breaks
Most of these ideas have been met with consternation, however. Early start times for students conflict with guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommend that both middle and high school students begin classes at 8:30 a.m. or later to benefit their physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement. Labor unions have voiced concern over requiring all teachers to work extended hours during the day or mandating work on the weekends.
So while the name of snow days may change, the concept is here to stay. Using virtual learning can definitely help students stay current if they are sick or if there is a weather-related event that prevents their safe transport to/from school. However, there needs to be a case-by-case evaluation of the environmental pros and cons for removing snow days and replacing them with virtual learning days.