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We love a good snow day. Turn up the Storm Center music, heat up soup and get the sleds ready.
This is the nostalgic snow day experience for many Maine families, a relaxing day off brimming with fun. It is a tradition worth holding on to — even, if not especially, in a new world of remote learning capabilities.
At the same time, not to rain on the snow day parade, it is also critical to remember that this is not everyone’s snow day experience. That was true even before the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in how snow days could impact meals for disadvantaged students. The role that schools fulfill as service centers became even more apparent in the pandemic. Income and racial learning gaps worsened, with online learning disproportionately causing challenges for disadvantaged students. The impacts of COVID-19 have fallen disproportionately on people of color, particularly here in Maine.
Snow days are often not great for working parents, particularly when they happen with little notice, and parents are left scrambling to figure out child care. The same or similar can be true with remote learning days, too. This emphasizes the need for school districts to be as clear and proactive as they can be in communicating plans for potential snow days or remote learning days.
Snow days — and snow — also can be an entirely new experience for some. As we welcome new Mainers from around the country and the world, Maine winters might be providing them with a not-so-welcome introduction to snow and the cold.
“Dear residents of Maine, I need you to understand that my first experience of snow season was a big problem for me personally — and for others I know as well,” Gashi e xplained in Amjambo Africa, a news organization that helps new Mainers better understand life in the state and helps Mainers better understand their new neighbors, this past October. “Because in many of our countries we do not have a snow season.” They talked about having to layer up to deal with the cold, but also about the happiness of watching Mainers get outside and enjoy the snow.
The understanding that not all Mainers experience winter or snow days the same way should be front and center for school officials and school boards as they think about the future of snow days. Online learning worsened learning gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers, and school districts aren’t going to close those gaps by leaning further into that model. This is a bigger conversation than snow days, surely, but it speaks to the need for balance here.
It would be a mistake for Maine to follow New York City schools in completely moving away from snow days. And educators should not approach the conversation the way one southern Maine superintendent did last year, when stressing that local businesses rely on student workers during the busy tourism season.
It should go without saying, but Maine school districts need to think about their students as learners, not laborers.
School districts are right to think about how remote learning can be used to prevent school years from dragging into the summer and make school calendars more predictable. Using remote learning days after a few regular snow days makes sense. But as many Maine districts have decided, snow days should not be replaced completely.
This can and should be done in a way that preserves the snow day magic that many young Mainers have experienced over the years, while working to make these and all days more magical for the disadvantaged students who have historically faced greater educational barriers.
It would be a mistake to make snow days a thing of the past. It would also be a mistake to pretend that snow days are fun for everyone. School districts, and policymakers, can hold on to the tradition while making the days better for everyone.