Editorial | Is the snow day no more for New York’s schoolchildren?

Youngsters enjoying the snowfall in Union Square on Dec. 17, 2020.
Photo by Dean Moses

Lament for the snow day

We know not exactly when the first snow day in public school history occurred — but we do know the day in which the tradition of cancelling classes because of snowfall ended.

It happened Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020.

For on that day, New York’s Department of Education announced that public school buildings would be closed the next day due to an impending snowstorm — but that all classes would go on anyway through remote learning.

The announcement came in a roughly 51-word email sent to parents and school officials on Dec. 16. And though it’s not yet official, it seemed to mark the end of a decades-old tradition of an off-day for young New Yorkers whenever a big snowstorm converged upon our city.

Yes, Virginia, there isn’t a snow day anymore. 

And you can blame this on the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

We’ve had the technology to conduct remote learning for years now with the advent of computers, broadband internet and high-tech cameras. But it was never fully utilized by public schools until COVID-19 arrived in New York back in March, and the schools were promptly shut down.

There was no way the city would allow students to remain home for the remainder of the school year without an education, so the Department of Education adapted on the fly. Teachers and students made use of the gear they had to shift classes online. 

The shift also exposed the great technology gap that exists in New York City schools, particularly among children from communities of color. New York scrambled to expand internet and tech access to students in these areas, yet is still catching up in many ways — and depriving too many children of the proper education they deserve.

But most everyone involved in education — teachers, parents, elected officials, even students — has come to one conclusion about remote learning: It is absolutely no substitute for a classroom education.

And while all students and teachers will return to the classrooms soon enough, the snow day seems doomed to history — because with an announcement and the flick of a few keyboards, the classes can go on even in the middle of a blizzard.

Every bit of progress indeed comes with a cost, and so it seems the snow day is a price paid for technology. Some parents may rebel and let their kids enjoy the snow anyway. Days of hooky, virtual or in person, are still absences in the city’s book.

But we feel sad for the future generations of students deprived of the thrill of a “school’s closed” announcement, and carefree weekdays of sledding, snow angels and snowball fights.

Now it’s just another day at a desk.