The End of Snow Days

Enjoy today’s day off… it may be our last


Owen Etter

On Monday the 26th of October, St. Vrain declared their first snow day of the 2020-2021 school year. However, this may be the LAST snow day that we’ll ever have, but we’ll have to see.

Lena Siscoe, Staff Writer

Today marks the first snow day of the 2020-2021 school year. At 7:51 last night, St. Vrain sent out a message that “Due to inclement weather, snow-packed and icy roads, additional snow expected throughout the evening, and very cold temperatures, all St. Vrain Valley Schools will be closed tomorrow, Monday, October 26.” The sight of this message is a great joy to many students and teachers, who don’t have to brave the extreme weather or unsafe roads and can instead spend the day at home with family, relaxing or catching up on schoolwork.

But thanks to online learning, our snow days may be numbered.


Why Snow Days aren’t necessary anymore

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus has schools all over the country changing their game when it comes to providing online learning. The pandemic has shown that remote learning is possible. We even have our own 100% online school in the district, LaunchEd. When the call to close schools today went out, that included LaunchEd too.

One LaunchEd teacher posted the following on Facebook this morning: “The school I teach at is 100% online, kids sitting in their houses. Today the district gave us a snow day. I am not joking.”

This teacher’s gripe seems legitimate: why is an online-only school having a day off for inclement weather? These students or teachers don’t have to go anywhere, so why sacrifice a day of learning? Why make teachers have to rewrite lesson plans for the week at the last minute?

Following this logic, why give snow days at all to any school? Granted, there are days when weather conditions make it too unsafe to come to school, but why couldn’t that just become a day of online remote learning? Due to the pandemic, we all have the resources for remote learning, and our first few weeks of the semester proved it to be effective. If remote learning can be done for the majority of a semester, then it can be done on a daily basis when the forecast calls for ice and snow.

It seems like this is the logic some other districts have used regarding the weather today. Denver Public Schools sent out a message saying, “Due to winter weather and poor travel conditions, DPS will have a 100% remote learning day for all students on Monday, Oct. 26.” Gilpin County Schools, Weld RE-4 (Windsor/Severance), and the University of Northern Colorado similarly canceled in-person classes and activities but are requiring online learning for students today.

Wait… why doesn’t everyone get the same Snow Day?

While DPS and other schools are requiring online school today, Thompson Valley schools, Poudre Valley Schools, and Greeley 6 Schools have joined St. Vrain in declaring a traditional no-school-whatsoever snow day. But how can two districts that neighbor each other and have similar weather make different decisions on snow days?

Jeremy Meyer, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education, said, “Policies on snow days are made at the district level. But school districts must adhere to state rules on instructional hours.” This meaning that if a district holds classes online, it must take attendance, document teacher-student interaction time, and ensure that students have the necessary technology and internet access to participate in remote learning for it to count as a learning day. However, if it doesn’t count as a learning day, then the district has to make it up.

St. Vrain has a handful of extra days built into the schedule to account for this, but if a series of storms use up all these days, then the school year would be extended into the summer to make up for the lost time. This is why remote snow days could be a plus for most school districts because it would mean we would be able to give students their daily lessons and class time, and there won’t be a need to make up days at the end of the school year.

This is the logic Denver Public Schools used in choosing remote snow days: “We understand that this shift to remote learning on short notice does present challenges. Our students have already lost so much learning time due to the COVID-19 crisis, and we feel it’s important to do whatever we can to maximize academic instruction and support this school year.”

Preserving those buffer days in the school calendar is also why our first snow day for St. Vrain last year happened in March. As we covered last February, St. Vrain shifted away from full snow days toward delayed starts–we had more delayed starts last year than in the previous five years combined. These delayed starts allowed for student and staff safety, as in-person travel would be safer once the sun came up and roads were de-iced, but also allowed schools to claim a day of learning toward those state rules on instructional hours. Delayed starts also help preserve sports schedules, as after school activities can still happen with a delayed start but not a snow day. In fact, Boulder Valley opted for a delayed start for their classes today.

Snow Days aren’t necessary, but they are needed

While DPS and other districts are laying the foundation to end the traditional snow day, many students, parents, and teachers believe that snow days should not become a thing of the past.

“Often, a snow day is a child’s dream come true,” says psychologist Dr. Mallory Langston. “Snow days provide a great opportunity for a break because we can’t control Mother Nature. [. . . ] When a snow day is called, the city is frozen and we all know it. No one can reasonably leave home without significant risk, and it isn’t our fault. We look forward to days like this because we need them. We need moments in which we aren’t in charge.”

Snow days promote the idea of a surprise vacation from responsibilities for a single day, and most features of the classic snow day align with advice mental health experts have preached for years to alleviate student stress. Most teenagers need more sleep: a snow day demands you spend a couple more hours snuggled up in your warm sheets. Most teenagers do too much, overloading their lives with work and school and sports and social commitments–a snow day gives teens a chance to unload and not have to do anything for a day. According to district wellness surveys, many teens feel a growing distance between themselves and their families, but snow days force families to be together for the day and reconnect with movies or games or snow angels in the backyard.

Now snow days aren’t a magical cure for everybody. Some teens still have to go to work. Some will have to shovel snow or may even miss a meal that they would usually get from the school cafeteria. Sadly, a few are even in households where a day at home with family is more psychologically stressful than the icy roads outside. But on the whole, snow days have the potential to bolster our mental health during the dark winter days when many of us need it the most.

And online learning might take that all away from us.

Dr. Langston writes that “Snow days are interruptions to our routines, and for many of us, the monotony of responsibilities, the “to-do” lists that never get done, the expectation that work comes first, and the pressure of being “on” at all times leaves us desperate for an unexpected reason to let it go. We go to work sick, or we stay up too late getting ahead on projects because our workloads exceed the 40 allotted hours. If we are sick and manage to stay home, we work from home because technology says we can.

According to this logic, shifting snow days to online learning days would rob us of any psychological benefits, and may in fact make things worse, as a sudden change in plans is very stressful to many students and teachers.

Former Frederick teacher Chelsea Stuvel, who now works at Severance High School and did not get a snow day today, told us, “I had to convert all my plans for tomorrow into online-only plans last night. They told us around 6:30 last night though, so I had some time. Still, it was hard getting all the kids to show up online (especially since today is the start of [the second] quarter), and just a full-on day off would have been easier.”

It’s still unsure whether or not snow days will exist in the future. If DPS’s digital snow day today gets praise, Dr. Haddad may decide that we should have a sudden day of remote learning if the weather turns nasty. Hopefully, he and the rest of our district leadership will recognize our need for the traditional snow day to remain despite our new technological ways around it. Either way, we have a snow day today, so grab a blanket, snuggle up, and enjoy the day off.

It may be our last.


EDITOR’S UPDATE, October 30, 2020: In an email to Frederick staff, Dr. Brian Young confirmed that all future days where in-person school is canceled due to inclement weather or other unforeseen reasons, synchronous learning online will still be required. This means that attendance will still be taken on that day and assignments will still be expected to be submitted.

“We know that every additional day that a student can be in school is critical to their well-being and academic growth,” Dr. Young stated in his email. “To this end, we have been planning for ways to leverage technology during times of inclement weather and other unforeseen situations that require the closure of our buildings, so that our students can continue to remain connected with their teachers and their learning.”

The daily schedule of the day will not change on an inclement weather day–Mondays and Wednesdays are still A classes, Tuesdays and Thursdays are still B classes, and Fridays are still Advisory and asynchronous work.