The Snow Day: To Make the Call or Not

Commentary By: Dr. Joseph Conway, Superintendent of Camden’s Charter School Network

As the snow swirls through the streets on a school night, the great educational debate rages in schools regarding the time honored “snow day.” 

Children looking out the window in the evening, and seeing the snow fall and hoping to hear that phone call, or see their schools name scroll across the screen, are as Americana as it gets.  Every adult remembers taking the gamble of unfinished schoolwork and a possible snow day.  And equally every adult remembers the joy of waking up to a gift of a snow day and unscheduled, unbridled sledding, snow man making, snowball fights, and hot chocolate. 

However, with the advent of virtual learning, the snow day has become a potentially endangered species. This time-honored tradition is in danger of becoming a thing of the past with the slow steady monotonous role of virtual learning which has made us all zoom exhausted during this pandemic.    

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Parents, teachers, and schools have all lined up on one side or the other in the need for a snow day.  Education must continue forward.  Students must learn.  They are academically falling behind.  These are some of the rationales provided.  Students need a break and some relief.  Students need a social emotional carefree snow day. Are the counterpoints.  Of course, this is the adult debate.  Students positions are pretty clearly understood.  There is no debate.

Generally, when dealing with a snow day the call comes from the superintendent in consultation with transportation authorities as per the board of education.  Snow days may or may not be built into the calendar.   Superintendents and boards, therefore, have become hailed as hero’s or grinches in this hallowed debate.  There is no in between.  And yet this is still a call-by-call storm-by-storm scenario for each case.  Each snowstorm requires the reading of the tea leaves or in this case snow swirls to understand what call should be made.         

The primary reason snow days have existed is because of travel conditions.  Between staff and students, a 2,500 student small size school district might be moving between 15 to 20 buses, hundreds of parent drivers, children walking on un-shoveled sidewalks, and staff and teachers making their daily commute in hazardous road conditions.  With virtual learning, travel precaution has been taken out of the discussion.  It is than left as a question of why to call a snow day.

One rationale is that social emotional needs of the child should be met, and a snow day is what the doctor ordered.  And it may be what is needed for both the student and the parent.  And in this great debate let me be the first to clearly state, I am in favor of a snow day.  However… 

As soon as we begin discussing the social emotional needs of the child we are stepping into the world of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

So, to that end, between physiological needs, safety needs, and belongingness needs one must consider the social emotional well being of a child.  Only by meeting the most basic needs are we than able to move towards academic learning.  The conclusion then is if we as teachers are to educate our children, the rationale is a snow day would improve our children’s social emotional wellbeing and therefore improve academics.

And yet I would suggest that is also the crux of the matter.  Are we solely teachers in the current situation of this pandemic?  I have argued we are not.  We are equally first responders. Before we get to social emotional needs, we have physiological needs of food, water, warmth, rest, etc. on Maslow’s Hierarchy.  And if we are first responders to our students and families, do we not have an obligation to address whether our students have their basic physiological needs cared for of food, heat, shelter, etc.?  Reaching out to our families at this time in the guise of academics seems like a clear responsibility. 

As stated, each call is a case-by-case call.  If on a Sunday evening 10 inches of snow dropped from the sky and the storm was over, a carefree sledding day seems appropriate. 

Our current situation is the Governor of New Jersey has called a State of Emergency with a snow storm that is spanning a 36 hour period.  In this event, as teachers, we have an obligation to carry forward with schooling as the first point of contact for all our families during an emergency situation. 

If the storm abates and our emergency is called off, at that point we can take out the sleds.  That’s how I read the snow swirls.    

Camden’s Charter School Network educates students in PreK-12th grade and consists of four schools, Camden’s Pride Elementary, Katz-Dalsey Elementary, Camden’s Promise Middle School, and Camden Academy High School.

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