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New York City schools cancel snow days in disturbing new trend

School officials still don’t seem to understand that virtual learning isn't a substitute for the real thing.
Children slide on a snow-covered hill in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2019.
Children slide on a snow-covered hill in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2019.Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images file

More bad news from the post-pandemic department: Snow days are canceled.

“There are technically no more snow days,” New York City School Chancellor David C. Banks announced ahead of the start of the 2022-23 school year this past week.

Now students will miss out on one of the only good things about the cold weather. But it’s not just denying my family the magic of snow days that upsets me.

As a New York City parent I have one reaction: UGH.

Now students will miss out on one of the only good things about the cold weather. But it’s not just denying my family the magic of snow days that upsets me. It’s that school officials still don’t seem to understand that online classes can’t substitute for the real thing.

Across the snowbelt, school districts are eliminating snow days, cutting them back or weighing both options. This change to a beloved tradition means that we are condemning students — and their parents — to permanently incorporate the half-measures and compromised learning of online classes into their lives.?

I get that the New York chancellor and his peers are concerned that kids are falling behind. Nearly 9 in 10 parents are worried about their children losing ground academically “due to coronavirus-related school closures, ranking higher than any other financial or socioemotional concern,” according to The Education Trust, with nonwhite students more severely affected.

But Banks is wrong when he told WNYW’s “Good Day New York”: “With the new technology that we have — that’s one of the good things that came out of Covid — if a snow day comes around, we want to make sure that our kids continue to learn.”

I guess he didn’t see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study last year that said that virtual instruction may present serious risks to the mental health of children. The study compared in-person with virtual learning and found that kids in Zoom school had “decreased physical activity (62.9% versus 30.3%), time spent outside (58.0% versus 27.4%), in-person time with friends (86.2% versus 69.5%), virtual time with friends (24.3% versus 12.6%) and worsened mental or emotional health (24.9% versus 15.9%).”?

A recent Harvard study found that families reported “a rise in temper tantrums, anxiety, and a poor ability to manage emotions, especially among the young elementary-aged children during remote learning.”?

Everyone knows now that in-person learning is far superior to virtual, so why subject kids to virtual learning on snow days?

Also, why subject parents? Even though my daughter attended a private preschool that reopened sooner than many public institutions, I’m still traumatized by Zoom school. Those first three months of chasing around a preschooler to coax (bribe) her to sit in front of a screen in order to sing weather songs and learn the alphabet still haunt me.?

And as a work from home parent (which I guess most of us are now?), those weeks back on Zoom for class shutdowns when someone had Covid-19 wreaked havoc on my work. Her schedule was like my Tabata workout: 20 minutes on, 10 minutes off. (In retrospect, I should’ve just worked out during Zoom school instead of trying to get into a writing groove for such a short time.)

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Banks tried to laugh off the snow day changes, but I cringed at his attempt at humor. “So, sorry, kids! No more snow days, but it’s gonna be good for you!” Except it’s not. Beyond the documented shortcomings of remote learning, there’s also the less quantifiable cost of shutting down a reliable source of pleasure for children — one that often got them outside in the fresh winter air.

Clearly Banks does not remember snow days as a child: waiting the night before by the radio to hear whether school was going to be closed, debating if you should actually study for that test or finish your homework, and then that elated, ecstatic feeling to hear you have an extra day off!?

Or better yet, waking up the next morning to winter white windows and then turning back over to go back to sleep before you prepare for a day of sheer fun: sledding on fresh powder, building snowball forts with your neighbors, coming inside half frostbitten for hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Last year our school experimented with online classes during inclement weather. And as good as the school has gotten at Zoom — more interactive learning, better instruction — it still meant during our breaks we would rush to put on our snow gear, build a few snowballs, run back inside to disrobe snow gear to attend class then run outside again to throw said snowballs. And usually missing the best snow. Anyone who lives in a cold urban area knows that means you get the muddy, slushy streets without all the fun. An actual snow day would just mean telling my clients I was off — nothing I could do about it — and making the most of the day with my child.

I’m sad for all the things my daughter has lost during the formative years of 4 to 6 because of the pandemic. She doesn’t remember life before masks. Or starting school without having a Q-tip shoved up her nose for rapid testing. Or that people once shared food. Or that kids blew out candles on birthday cakes (everyone does cupcakes now). Or that her grandparents were more vibrant before Covid isolated them.

I wish she didn’t have to lose snow days, too.


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