This is an article about snow day policy suggestions that could be applicable to any jurisdiction where there are school closures due to extreme weather conditions (or some other climatic challenges). It is written in response to some articles specific to the province of Nova Scotia, but the suggestions are universal. May just need some customization pending starting points of jurisdictions needing policy change. Just skip to the section called My Snow Day Policy Suggestions.
These are just thoughts and suggestions. But that’s why I’d like to hear your input. If you have anything to share, please do!
Recently, we had a snow day in Nova Scotia where schools were closed and there was a snowball fight in the media about what to be done regarding snow days. There always is one, but it dies out with the snow melting until the next pile of snow big enough to have a snow day. Marilla Stephenson, a local Chronicle-Herald columnist threw the first snowball with an opinion piece called Don’t Throw School Day Out with Snowstorm. Then a retired “professional educator” (what is that?) of 30 years, Karen Lia Schlick, threw one back with a Letter to the Editor entitled Digging Deeper on Snow Days. They both had good points, but because I think they didn’t fully hit the target, I’m getting in on it.
Background (for NS situation)
We have a 50 year old policy in Nova Scotia that lets regional school boards decide on snow days, when to close schools. There is a discussion paper recently prepared for the NS Department of Education by Jim Gunn, former superintendent of the Annapolis Valley regional school board for 15 years, which had a few points and recommendations (courtesy of Marilla’s article).
- Have teachers attend storm days for “professional collaboration” with other teachers on dealing with students and teaching plans. This is more than marking papers or planning lessons, which teachers say they do at home on storm days. This is time together to determine how best to serve the needs of an increasingly complex and fully mainstreamed student population.
- Heavy snow isn’t always the reason of snow days, but rather icy roads raising the risks associated with student transportation.
- There was nothing mentioned about making up lost time except a case in 1971 when 5 days were added. As a statistic, in 2008-09, all NS school boards but one canceled 8-12 days of school, though it was unusually high compared to other years.
The Department of Education has stated that this report will be left for the school boards to “use as they see fit” (Education Department spokesman Peter McLaughlin).
Marilla’s Points (my comments in italics)
Marilla pointed out that if others have to go to work or lose some compensation, whether vacation days or pay, then why not teachers? Everybody else, including school board members, have to go to work or else lose a vacation day or pay.
Those are good points, and better than NS Teacher’s Union president Alexis Allen’s claim that if it were unsafe for students to go to school, then it is also unsafe for teachers. Are teachers worse drivers or something?
Marilla also recommends that Parents should choose whether or not they will take their kids to school. Let Parents decide the risk, not the school boards.
I can see some merit in this, but I’m not going to completely agree because I think it causes more chaos for the teachers every time there is a snow day. It’ll be like suddenly having half the school kids sick for one day instead of just a much smaller, more manageable, number. The large number will be critical mass to delay everyone else because too many won’t work to catch up like some portion of a number of sick kids each day and there’ll be huge numbers out of sync in the learning pace. But I like the idea of school being open to minimize Parents having to find day care or take time off. I just want it to be used for extra learning in school, not the usual. More on this later.
Karen’s Points (my comments in italics)
Karen’s purpose for writing her letter was to decry Marilla’s last suggestion, claiming it makes snow days a “day care” situation, not school. The rest is a rant and vent about how people who comment on education often don’t know much about it, and that it’s quite possibly the envy of teachers and students who have snow days that results in this backlash on snow days.
The day care point is valid, the rest is frankly, uneducated, for lack of a better word. I’m not going to add a few other obvious adjectives that come to mind with that attitude Karen stated. She shouldn’t try to play psychologist when she has a questionable commentary behavioral fault herself! Google her name and read her many online comments! If teachers have that vision of how the rest of us see snow days for teachers, they’re not going to win themselves any friends. If Parents were to decide on taking kids to school, what should happen is that there should be pre-packaged extra learning sessions that teachers there can use. Karen is right to say school is structured, but offered no ideas about how the time in school could be used if a significant portion of the school population is missing. Now, let me see, how many topics does school not cover sufficiently that a little more education on them couldn’t hurt, even if just focused, for one day, that will only result in awareness at the very least? Can’t you think of some???
My Snow Day Policy Suggestions
If you lose time, you have to replace it with time. It’s that simple, and there’s not going to be any soft love about it. North American kids are in school significantly less than kids around the world, especially in Asia, but also in many other places. They can’t afford to lose any more learning time, especially if they generally work far less than their counterparts, unless North America wants to fall behind the rest of the world in just the next generation.
The arguments North Americans are freer thinkers from our system by the time they get to university, as if that makes up for the lost time in school, is mostly crap. It is true students in other societies tend to work harder outside of school to help give them an edge, but they also learn more during their extra time in school, and use it more wisely for stuff that can be done at home to be done at home. Our students may be freer thinkers by the time they get to university, but how many get to use that extra ability on the job? Do you think there are really that many jobs requiring that free thinking? Also, North Americans are outnumbered like 10:1 to just Asia. Even if only 10% of their students were as free thinking as ours by the time they get to university, they can match us in numbers. But they’re a lot more creative than we give them credit for, and they’ve got a much greater and more capable workforce to draw upon to make their ideas happen. Finally, have you also noticed some of our greatest thinkers and successful people were university drop outs (i.e. Bill Gates)??? University is called an “institution” for a reason, you know! That free thinking school system ideal is a terrible indicator. Also, have you noticed how many foreign students are coming to North America to learn our free thinking to apply to their skills superior to our students, in general?
Anyway, to help make up snow days, my suggestions are in bold below, and associated commentary:
- Extend the school year by a week to compensate for snow days. A week seems enough. So take it into July for a week, take out March break, or start the week before Labour Day. For the last case, the first weekend of the school year would be a long weekend to adapt to school demand after a less demanding summer (for most). Wouldn’t that be nice? Whether the school is closed for the snow day is in suggestion #4. Hey, lots of kids around the world go to school on Saturdays, or in the usual summer time kids have in North America. It’s not ridiculous! As for the economic sectors impacted by the extra schooling week, well, very few kids go to camps and such all summer. They’ll just use a week they would have been at home to cover for the one they might have missed out in early July. Reschedule the camps and such. The kids will still be there. Finally, let the school boards decide on snow days as currently done. It’s a local situation that needs to be locally monitored.
- If less than 5 snow days are required in a year, have the unused days as field days in summer. A little activity could do the kids a lot of good these days.
- Don’t adjust the school teacher salaries. They’re technically working the same, and should be similar to their school board counterparts. A slight readjustment every now and then is a condition of the job. It’s not so tough a condition when you look at the crap many other people have to put up with in their jobs! A snow day can be a day off for teachers cause if they need it to prepare for lessons, then they won’t have been prepared without it. You were going to teach day 78 tomorrow when it becomes a snow day? Then teach day 78 the next day. If you need extra prep, you weren’t ready so fix it on your own time, not snow day time and expect to be paid for it. Also, teachers with kids can focus on their kids, and others can do something else. Teachers have Christmas holidays straight through, spring break (or March break) for a week and summer for two months. Not all of this is “vacation”, of course, but it’s a LOT of non-teaching time. Some of it can surely be converted to teaching time. I don’t expect this to go over well. I’m not naive to those teachers’ unions, but they need to suck it up and get in touch with the real world. I’ve talked about North American students not working enough and hard enough compared to their world counterparts, do I need to get into a comparison for the teachers as well? And I’m not against teachers. At one point in my life not many years ago, I had thought about becoming a teacher. Then I studied the system in NS and said No thanks! Even if they fixed it, it wasn’t going to be soon enough for me.
- Offer informal learning days at schools if schools remain open on snow days for optional attendance. Having someone take care of the students, especially the really young ones, when the Parents have to work, could be a tough challenge to manage. Having 5 “day care” vouchers per student per year wouldn’t be any good as the students would have to be transported to day care, which could be at least as challenging as to school. That’s where the informal learning days, with pre-packaged learning lessons comes in. Teachers could also create their own to share their passions to teach something. That’s what they love, right?
- Have a short list of teachers who could more reliably show up for snow days, have them be ready to teach extra learning and compensate with extra pay. Let the teachers willing to step up to do this get the compensation for it. They should be able to justify they could do this reliably, whether living close or having capable vehicles. It’ll be paid as earned, not up front.
- If schools are to be closed on snow days, then just apply Suggestions 1-3.
Now, I don’t pretend to think this is the absolute answer, most correct, or such. They are just thoughts and suggestions. But that’s why I’d like to hear your input. If you have anything to share, please do!
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 7.5