Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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In Our View: Are snow days needed in the age of COVID?

The Columbian

As detailed in a Columbian article this week, it might snow today in Clark County.

Or it might not.

The same can be said for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which could mean that Punxsutawney Phil was correct last week when he saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter.

On the other hand, we probably should listen to local meteorologists when it comes to our weather, rather than a groundhog some 2,600 miles away. And the experts say with great certitude: They think we’ll have snow, but aren’t sure how much.

“Unfortunately, the models are all over the place,” meteorologist Tyler Franz said. “It’s still unknown. There is certainly a chance for snow accumulation at various elevations. People should be aware that there is also a chance for freezing rain throughout the region. So, don’t think only snow. It could be a wintry mix.”

Whether the weather is fine or whether the weather is not, the coming cold and the prospect of snow bring several thoughts to mind.

One is concern for our homeless neighbors. Freezing temperatures always present health and safety issues for unhoused people and remind us of the need for community efforts to address the issue.

Another is a question about the impact of an accumulation of snow and whether it even matters during the age of coronavirus. For many people in Clark County, snow will only alter the view out the window of their home office, leaving them to continue laboring as they have for the past 11 months or so. The work will go on, with the excuse of “I can’t make it into the office” rendered moot.

For better or worse, the pandemic has taught many of us that we never really have to leave the house.

But the larger question — one that will have implications long after the pandemic has subsided — involves the impact on schools.

Most students have been attending classes remotely for nearly a year. Those who do have some in-building classes typically also have some online. And while the situation is imperfect, students, teachers and administrators have learned that it can be done.

Snow days are the stuff of dreams for kids. Waking up to a powdery landscape and realizing that the day will be filled with sledding and snowball fights instead of classes is akin to looking under the tree on Christmas morning.

Local school districts have not indicated that things will be any different now. The website for Vancouver Public Schools says: “School closures, delays and early releases are decided as early as possible. . . . The decision to close schools or delay opening them is taken very seriously. The safety of students and staff is a top priority.”

But with infrastructure already in place for remote learning, administrators should reconsider the need for closing schools because of inclement weather.

There are issues with this proposal, of course. Many schools have teachers providing instruction from their classroom, even if students are at home, and they should not be expected to come into work if travel is unsafe. And inclement weather is more likely to cause power outages that would make it impossible for students to attend class remotely.

Then there is the issue of frustration and disappointment for students pretending to learn while they gaze out the window at a winter wonderland.

But Washington requires 180 school days in a year, and districts often have to add days when there is a particularly bad weather year. The institution of remote learning should help alleviate those concerns.


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