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Family First with FOX43: Snow days vs. virtual days

With the growth of virtual learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts are starting to do away with the traditional snow day.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — What once was a winter rite of passage for children is becoming a part of the past: the snow day.

As schools become more adept at virtual remote learning, many districts across South Central Pennsylvania are choosing to maintain learning days instead of giving students and teachers the traditional "snow day" that comes with school being closed for the day.

Cumberland Valley and West Shore are two examples of school districts which plan to do away with snow days, and instead focus on remote learning on days inclement weather prevents students and teachers from making it to school.

"Clearly we now have the ability to provide remote learning going forward," said Dr. Todd Stoltz, Superintendent of the West Shore School District. "[COVID-19] has shown us that we can do something and we can adjust and I think we can do it fairly effectively."

Pennsylvania public schools must, under school code, complete 180 instruction days in a school year. Often times, in the past, if there was a bad winter, school districts would have to hold class until mid-to-late June. 

Dr. David Christopher, superintendent at Cumberland Valley, says parents and students have told his administration they don't mind losing the traditional "snow day", as it means a full spring break, and no make-up days late in the school year means summer vacation starts on time.

On top of that, Christopher says virtual learning days in lieu of snow days was a priority to try and keep schedules as consistent as possible, referencing any potential unforseen cancelled days as a result of potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

"[Snow days] should probably be on the endangered spieces list," Christopher said when asked if traditional snow days are a thing of the past. "I think as technology improves and school does more of these things, and we've shown you can provide quality education to students online."

Dr. Stoltz adds feedback from his district is students are still able to experience the benefits of a snow day -- sleeping in a little more, going outside after school ends  -- while learning during the day.

However, some behavioral health therapists believe school districts aren't considering a student's mental health when they decide to eliminate snow days.

"Especially right now, kids have been under so much stress for the past year," says Mark Sigmund, with Retreat Behavioral Health in Philadelphia. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are only recommended to have two hours of screen time per day. Schools which are doing virtual learning may have students in front of a screen for six-to-eight hours a day. This is only of the reasons why some school districts, like East Pennsboro in Cumberland Valley, has decided to keep traditional snow days.

At a January school board meeting, the board voted 5-to-4 in favor of rejecting a motion to move to virtual learning days on snow days. One board member said the snow day is necessary for some of the township's elderly residents, who rely on students to help them shovel out. Another board member suggested snow days help get kids outside to appreciate nature, and away from computer screens.

In the event a school district plans to keep virtual learning instead of snow days, Sigmund suggests parents must be mindful of their children. 

  • Ask them how they're doing daily
  • Watch for angry outbursts
  • Sleep patterns

"Find a sledding hill, build a snowman, get them outside and really enjoy and stay mindful."

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