The end of snow days? Online learning is to blame

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-12-08 06:59

Loss is a 'bummer,' Ontario kid says

A move to cancel snow days in favour of online learning is putting the freeze on winter fun for some Canadian kids.

Best friends Lauren Letts and Healey Stirling from Waterloo, Ontario, told CBC Kids News their first snow day of the year was a major disappointment.

That’s because a new rule says they need to do assignments from home on storm days.

Instead of frolicking in the snow all day, drinking hot chocolate and watching movies on Dec. 1, the 12-year-olds had to work on a book report.

It was “kind of a bummer,” Lauren said.

“A lot of kids look forward to snow days,” said the Grade 7 student from Our Lady of Lourdes, and “they just took that away from us.”

The cancellation of snow days could become a reality across the country as school staff take advantage of virtual learning plans designed to help kids learn from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healey, left, and Lauren, right, used to do a complex ritual involving pyjamas, tooth brushing and pillows when they were hoping for a snow day. Now they say there’s no point. (Image submitted by Angela Letts)

What does a snow day look like in Waterloo?

On Nov. 18, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board announced the launch of Weather Impacted Distance Learning Days on storm days when buses are cancelled and school buildings are closed.

The Waterloo Region District School Board did the same.

Going forward, students won’t necessarily be logging into virtual classroom sessions on those days, but they are expected to work on assignments.

Teachers are also expected to be available to help.

No more wacky snow day rituals

Healey and Lauren used to do a little ritual when the forecast was stormy to try and make a snow day happen.

They’d put their pyjamas on inside out and backwards, brush their teeth with the opposite hand and sleep with spoons under their pillows.

Lauren left, and Healey, right, had to do school online for the last few weeks of Grade 6 when their school was closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. They said they didn’t learn as much and it wasn’t as fun as doing school in person. (Image submitted by Angela Letts)

Now they say they won’t bother.

What’s the point of staying at home, Healey asked, if we have to do virtual lessons? “We’d rather just go to school so we can see our friends.”

Why cancel snow days?

The point, according to the board’s chief managing officer John P. Shewchuk, is to give students a safe learning environment.

Usually classes are combined on snow days to make sure students who do show up at school have proper supervision, but that wouldn’t be possible this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, he said.

This way “students are still able to access learning” on snow days, without putting their safety at risk, Shewchuk said.

Other Ontario schools jumping on the trend

Other school boards in Ontario appear to be following Waterloo’s example.

Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario, for example, announced on Nov. 27 that high school students would have to start doing full days of remote learning on snow days.

Missing a day of school is “challenging” for kids in that age group, said Shelley Armstrong, the superintendent of business and treasurer for the board, when asked about the change.

A number of other school boards in the Greater Toronto Area, including Peel, York and Durham, are also testing out a new approach to snow days.

Tweet from Peel Schools says new this school year - on days when buses are cancelled and schools are closed due to inclement weather, impacted students will engage in online learning at home.

What about elsewhere in Canada?

CBC Kids News reached out to schools in snowy places to see if the rise in virtual learning could mean the end of snow day fun everywhere.

In the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, snow days haven’t been cancelled — yet.

Spokesperson Cheryl Gullage said in an email that “all options are being considered,” given the “significant investments” made to get virtual learning up and running in that district.

A similar policy change wouldn’t happen in a place like Winnipeg, given that there are no snow days there to cancel.

“Our schools are always open,” said Radean Carter, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg School Division.

A message for other Canadian kids

Lauren and Healey said in the end, they probably only did about an hour or two of school work on their first snow day under the new policy.

Even though “it wasn’t an insane amount of work,” Lauren said, “I wasn’t thrilled to be doing work on the snow day.”

The girls had this message for Canadian kids who still get to play all day when schools are snowed in.

Don’t “take it for granted and be bored all day,” Healey said.

With files from CBC Windsor

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