Education leaders in Mahwah, New Jersey, are resolved to preserve a childhood institution at risk due to the confluence of a pandemic and technology. That institution is the snow day, of course.
With classes taught remotely at least part of each week — as students are scattered in their bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens, and wired to teachers and each other via internet connection — the temptation is great among school officials not to cancel classes except in the rarest of circumstances. Two feet of snow are forecast? No need to cancel school. Everyone will just learn remotely.
Clearly, this is a dismal turn of events for students who look forward to the occasional gift of nature, with all its trappings. What’s the point of winter without a random day off from school?
Well, this won’t be a problem in Mahwah Township, which is along the New York border about 20 minutes west of the old Tappan Zee Bridge (now the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge), with a population of more than 26,000. School officials there issued a statement recently vowing to keep snow days.
“We have decided that few childhood acts remain unchanged due to COVID-19 and we will maintain the hope of children by calling actual snow days due to inclement weather,” the statement read. “Snow days are chances for on-site learners and virtual learners to just be kids by playing in the snow, baking cookies, reading books and watching a good movie.”
Hear, hear to the Thunderbirds (that would be the Mahwah High School mascot).
Not surprisingly, education leaders in many other districts are taking a different tack. New York City, with the largest school district in the country, has canceled snow days for the year, according to The Washington Post, “while districts from Maryland to Michigan have hinted that calling a snow day will be about as likely this winter as an all-school assembly.” Sheesh.
In Massachusetts, state education officials leave the decision to local districts, though a statement by Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s office strongly hints at at-home class on wintry days: “The commissioner has determined that for this school year only … if there are days when schools must close because of inclement weather or other emergency, districts may choose whether to treat those days as ‘snow days’ to be made up later or provide all students with remote learning on those days … .”
Andover, for one, has already announced it will not call a snow day — unless a widespread power outage or some other condition keeps kids from learning remotely. That gives kids a different object for their winter prayers: Twelve inches of snow isn’t enough, they’ll also need the intervention of National Grid, or perhaps lack thereof.
Sure, snow days have to be made up at the end of the year, creating its own set of challenges. But one can’t discount the mental health benefit of an impromptu break from school — a quiz delayed, a deadline postponed, a day without a lecture.
Clearly, this is something valued in Mahwah, New Jersey. Too bad, it’s not in many other places