Are Snow Days Still a Thing? | Inside Higher Ed

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The Boy has been home for a couple of weeks for the break. He was planning to return to Virginia on Monday, but based on forecasts of significant snow, he’s delaying a day. I agree with the decision on the grounds that driving around D.C. is challenging on a good day; adding snow to the equation is not likely to help. His classes don’t start for another couple of weeks, so there’s nothing lost.

But it got me thinking about snow days.

Snow days aren’t necessarily about snow. I’ve had a few caused by power outages, for instance. On the day in March 2020 that we evacuated campus in the middle of the day, I had a difficult time explaining how to treat the day on payroll until I landed on “treat it like a snow day.” Suddenly, all became clear. A few years ago, we had to evacuate due to a gas leak, canceling a scheduled professional development day that many faculty had planned to use toward their annual requirement. Treating it like a snow day provided an easily understood model and prevented unnecessary confusion.

Snow days are usually about transportation. When the roads are too difficult for buses to navigate, schools close. In areas with many geographically small districts and a long tradition of home rule, that can lead to odd patchworks of closures, late starts and full openings in the same area on the same day. At previous colleges, I’ve been on campus on days when about half of the local school districts closed; inevitably, both employee and student attendance drops drastically. Someone who counts on school as childcare for their 7-year-old may have to stay home if the elementary school takes a snow day.

As a kid, a snow day was an unalloyed good. As an adult, I usually spend a good chunk of the snow day clearing the driveway and the rest on the laptop. It’s not nearly as much fun.

Things are more complicated now, for a few reasons.

The short-term issue, of course, is COVID. We got a message from The Girl’s school over the weekend saying that it has a shortage of bus drivers due to quarantines. That’s a variation on a snow day that I hadn’t seen before.

The longer-term issue is Zoom and its counterparts. Assuming the power stays on and the internet continues to work, the same technology that enables dodging crowded buildings during a pandemic also enables dodging snowy streets during storms.

That’s good and bad. Certainly I’d rather have people meet virtually than drive into telephone poles or leave young children unattended. If the roads are impassable, they’re impassable. But to the extent that new technology means that a snow day can still be a full workday, that one hurts a little. The classic version of a snow day had a charm I’d hate to lose.

Wise and worldly readers, has Zoom eliminated the classic snow day for you?

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