With remote learning well established in school districts across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, it may seem like the end of snow days as we once knew and loved them.
Instead of sleeping in and having snowball fights, many students on the East Coast — which was hit by a snowstorm Wednesday — will be logging in for Zoom school. "I know we all grew up with the excitement of snow days, but this year is different," New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Tomorrow will be a FULL REMOTE learning day for our students."
But one superintendent in West Virginia decided to give students the day off anyway on Wednesday, saying there are good reasons to call a snow day besides the roads being too icy.
In a letter to the school community on Tuesday, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson said she was canceling classes so that students and faculty could take a much-needed break during a very hard year.
"For generations, families have greeted the first snow day of the year with joy," Gibson's letter states. "It is a time of renewed wonder at all the beautiful things that each season holds. A reminder of how fleeting a childhood can be. An opportunity to make some memories with your family that you hold on to for life."
"For all of these reasons and many more, Jefferson County Schools will be completely closed for tomorrow, Dec. 16, in honor of the 1st snow day of the year," the letter continues. "Closed for students ... closed for virtual ... closed for staff."
Gibson said she hoped the snow day would provide the kind of joy, rest, and celebration that has been so rare during the pandemic.
"It has been a year of seemingly endless loss and the stress of trying to make up for that loss," she said. "For just a moment, we can all let go of the worry of making up for the many things we missed by making sure this is one thing our kids won’t lose this year."
"So please, enjoy a day of sledding and hot chocolate and cozy fires," she said. "Take pictures of your kids in snow hats they will outgrow by next year and read books that you have wanted to lose yourself in, but haven’t had the time."
"We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up on Thursday, but for tomorrow," the letter concludes, "go build a snowman."
The letter has spread far beyond the school community, going viral online, with people praising the superintendent's decision and heartfelt words.
Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson told BuzzFeed News she was surprised to see the letter strike a chord with so many people, but she can understand why it has gone viral.
"I think people appreciated a recognition of how difficult this has been," she said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "I think there has been such a focus on how we have to catch up academically and we have to plow forward and keep working hard. And all those things are true, but I also think it's important to recognize how difficult this year has been and give yourself some grace."
"All year long, we've had a lot of discussions about social and emotional help [for students] and the isolation and the loss of seminal events in their lives: graduations and proms and dances and athletics — all those parts of school that make memories for you."
"The first snow day of the year is one of those," she said.
This story has been updated with an interview with Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson.