Save snow days!

A child plays in the snow in New York, December 17, 2020. (Photo: NYTimes)
There were weeks in 2020 when one of my children, just a few years into elementary school, would fall asleep crying almost every night, listing all the things they’d lost and the months, which then turned into a year, they’d never get back. (I’m not being specific about which child; if this ever embarrasses them they can each say it was the other.)اضافة اعلان

Sometimes my kid, who’d been joyful before the pandemic, would say, “I wish I wasn’t alive.” That was usually when the bedtime lament turned to Zoom school, which made my child sob harder than anything else.

My children are luckier than most, but privilege isn’t a bulwark against mourning. As we emerge from the worst year of our lives, I care a lot more about their lost happiness than their lost learning.

So I was apoplectic, perhaps unreasonably so, when the New YorkCity Department of Education announced Tuesday that it was replacing snow days with “remote learning” days for the coming school year. It seems like callousness bordering on cruelty to scrap one of childhood’s greatest pleasures in favor of a rehash of pandemic life.

Snow days don’t come often in New York — Bill de Blasio declared seven during his first five years in office — but it’s precisely their rarity that makes them, to children, so precious and memorable. After what our kids have endured, we shouldn’t take such an uncommon, blissful reprieve and turn it into a day of drudgery.

Of course, snow days may not be such a blissful reprieve for parents and other guardians, who often have to scramble to find child care. (The New York Times reported that mistaken snow day calls are one of the top reasons that school superintendents are fired.) But forcing caretakers to supervise remote learning only increases the difficulty; it’s a lot more work than sending kids outside or, if that’s not possible, parking them in front of a movie. (There will also be “remote learning” on Election Day, which was a day off before 2020.)

This issue might seem trivial, but it has implications for what school is going to look like next year. It’s not just about New York, because the future of snow days is in question in many districts. Having invested millions of dollars in technology to enable remote education, will school leaders feel an incentive to keep using it? How will they balance the very real need to remediate the academic losses caused by the pandemic with social and emotional healing?

The elimination of snow days, said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat who represents a district in the Bronx and Westchester, is “a very big issue, because it’s a window into how we look at our children, how we understand learning, and how we create environments for children that either help them to thrive” or prevent them from becoming “their best selves.”

Before he was elected to Congress last year, Bowman was principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a middle school in the Bronx. He’s also been an elementary-school teacher and a high school dean and guidance counselor. Like me, he’s worried about remote learning becoming normalized. (As the National Broadcasting Company’s (NBC) Erin Einhorn reported, in some schools it’s already being used as a disciplinary tactic.) “If I was still a middle-school principal, I would strongly advocate for my kids using technology as rarely as possible because they’ve been staring at a freaking screen for over a year!” he said.

It seems unlikely that filling an unexpected day off with online work is going to help students catch up academically; the reason so many are so far behind in the first place is that remote school is ineffective. The beauty of a snow day, by contrast, is irreplaceable, and our kids also have to catch up on good memories.

The trauma of the past year, said Bowman, “has more of a lasting impact than the learning loss.” What professionals call “adverse childhood experiences” have far-reaching consequences on academic achievement, but also on health and emotional stability.

“We have to be trauma-informed as we go back into school,” Bowman said. “And trauma-informed is not, ‘More work to catch them up so that we can close the learning gap.’”

To deal with that gap, Bowman argues, schools need funding to put more teachers into classrooms to give kids more individual instruction. “But in terms of the trauma, play is going to be a very important part of dealing with this trauma. Friendships are a very important part,” he said.

The Department of Education insists that the calendar has given it little option but to eliminate snow days. Because of the timing of Labor Day and Rosh Hashana, as well as teachers’ contractually mandated preparation period, the new school year won’t start until September 13. There’s also a new holiday, Juneteenth. The state mandates 180 instructional days before the end of Regents exams, which in 2022 will be June 24. If the city comes up short, officials say, it could lose tens of millions of dollars in state funding.

“We are sad for a year without snow days but we must meet the state mandate and we can leverage the technology we invested in during the pandemic so our students get the instructional days required by the state,” Danielle Filson, press secretary for the Department Of Education (DOE), told me.

But this simply means that the fault is with Albany. The state’s inflexibility is not only taking from kids something they love, but making it impossible for families that loathed remote learning to put it behind us. If meeting a rigid 180-day bench mark means forcing children to relive an experience from the pandemic rather than play in the snow, then the bench mark is a problem.

It’s the worst kind of bureaucratic thinking to assume that just because you had to spend money on technology, you should use it, even if it makes people’s lives worse.

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