Monday, September 26, 2022

Schools rethink the whole idea of snow days


Now that we know “virtual learning” days count in terms of attendance, the need to have “snow days,” where students don’t attend school due to inclement weather, may be extinct, The New York Times reports.

Earlier this month, Jack Smith, the superintendent of Maryland’s largest school district, Montgomery County Public Schools, said that he never wants to see a snow day again: “There is no excuse ever again to have to make up a snow day,” the Bethesda Beat quoted him as saying at a school board meeting, with agreement from some school board members.

But he’s got a point. As schools everywhere adjust to at-home learning—ensuring students have devices, securing classroom links from unexpected Zoombombings, providing community-based WiFi hotspots, etc.—the need to give students a day off and then have to schedule make-up days in June or cut spring break short is diminishing.

Add to that the fact that many workers in Washington, DC, have already determined they won’t be returning to their office buildings until summer 2021, as they have found that virtual work is working just fine, NPR reported earlier this month.

Still, fourth graders don’t do virtual learning the same way adult accountants do business meetings. One fourth grader in a brief Zoom meeting I witnessed couldn’t even type in her own email address (she had a mental block against typing the period in between comcast and net). Just imagine if she had to attach a pic of her assignment and email it to her teacher! Based on a cartoon by Aubrey Hirsch in Vox, I can believe my short episode pretty much sums up the virtual learning experience for elementary students.

School officials have often been criticized sharply for their handling of snow days. Specifically, they are criticized when they call a snow day and only a few inches of snow falls, and they are criticized when they don’t call a snow day and the weather turns foul at noon. The redefinition of snow days as virtual learning days, as has been allowed in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, will alleviate that issue altogether.

Replacing teachers with technology, while problematic without any in-person learning, has its benefits, and this would certainly be one of them for school administrators. There’s something to be said, though, about waking up at 5 AM and turning on the morning news to watch the ticker crawl across the bottom of the screen to see if your school is closed.

So while school buses may have ended the tradition of walking uphill 10 miles to school—each way—Zoom may have ended the tradition of that unexpected day off in the dead of winter.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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