No snow day for Philadelphia students, despite a storm and fond wishes

A snow day in Brooklyn.

A snow day in Brooklyn. (Maura Walz/Chalkbeat)

This story originally appeared on Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

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Sledding. Throwing snowballs. Making a snowman.

With the region’s first significant snowfall since March 2019 on the way, parents and students are chattering online about how welcome it would be — after hours of Zoom classes and all the stresses of being cooped up in the pandemic — to have a good old-fashioned snow day.

Bah Humbug! Not in Philadelphia. No need to have a snow day if classes are remote, the reasoning goes.

Perfectly logical. But is it right?

Parent Jennifer Byiers, a member of the Facebook group NW PHL public schools, tweeted at Superintendent William Hite:

There are scores of comments on Byiers’ Facebook post of her tweet, many of them lighthearted. “We’re taking the ‘snow day’ if principal Mommy says so,” wrote one parent. “I need a snow day more than my wee one,” posted another.

Not everyone wants a “snow day,” however. One person pointed out that many parents are working from home and if their child is not occupied by school, it will wreak havoc on their schedule.

The district — which is not the only one taking a no snow day stance — is standing firm.

“Since all classes are being held virtually at this time, there will be no change to class schedules and all students are expected to log in to their classes at their normal times,” said district spokeswoman Monica Lewis in a statement.

“The District has made significant investments to allow for our students to engage in digital learning since school buildings were closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last spring,” she added. “The beauty of virtual learning environments is that inclement weather doesn’t impact the ability to continue teaching and learning.

Besides having a day for a much-needed break from staring at a computer screen, parents, teachers and others cited additional issues: electricity and internet connections aren’t as reliable in storms. And the city runs more than 70 centers where some 2,000 students go during the school day for internet access and supervision. Some families use the centers because parents work, others because their homes lack broadband access. If school is in session and the centers closed, those students won’t be able to get online.

At a city briefing on storm preparations Tuesday afternoon, Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa said that the access centers will be open on Wednesday until 1 p.m., but “as of right now” they will be closed all day Thursday due to travel conditions and “the recognition that folks may be home.” She said those students who use the centers due to a lack of home internet “is a small percentage of the total school district population.” And, she added, it’s only one day.

The school district is closing its district headquarters and three technology support centers around the city that service Chromebooks to minimize travel, said Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeil at the briefing. Lewis said that the district plans to go ahead with its regular weekly distribution of “grab and go” meals at its 63 regular sites on Friday.

Lewis did give a nod to those parents and students who think snow days are an important ritual and bemoan their loss.

“We absolutely encourage students and staff to take brain breaks throughout the day and, if the weather conditions are safe, we see nothing wrong with students engaging in outdoor activities if they can do so in ways that allow for them to practice social distancing and other safety measures that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

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