Sorry kids, but an education expert says a snow day might not be enough to get you out of that test in the era of online learning.
Heavy snowfall disrupted the reopening of schools in three COVID-19 hot spots in the Toronto area Tuesday.
Public and Catholic school boards in Peel and York Regions cancelled in-person classes because of the inclement weather, but they said virtual learning would continue, snow or shine.
Meanwhile, the Toronto District and Toronto Catholic District school boards decided to move ahead with reopening, but forced students to make their own way to class after cancelling transportation services.
Paul Bennett, director of Schoolhouse Consulting, says the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a lesson about the need for learning to continue even when students can't make it to class.
"It's time to say goodbye to snow days, once and for all," Bennett said by phone from Halifax. "We need to be using all the knowledge we've gained through adjusting to COVID-19 and put it to good use.'
Bennett said Canadian schoolchildren are suffering from the "COVID slide," which he characterized as the greatest learning loss in recent history.
But the crisis has also forced school authorities to adopt a variety of remote learning techniques that allow kids to carry on with their studies during periods of mass disruption, he said.
"There has been a steep learning curve for teachers, parents and students. And they're now much more accustomed to performing online," Bennett said. "There's no rationale any longer for cancelling school because of inclement weather."
In recent years, school boards in some regions seem to have become more inclined to cancel classes at the first sign of bad weather, particularly in the storm-prone Maritime provinces, he said.
Bennett said the rise of snow days has not only cost students valuable class time, but also hurts working parents' productivity.
While he appreciates that snow days are a childhood "rite of passage," Bennett said these surprise days of winter fun should be as special as they are scarce.
"I love snow days as much as any kid going to school," he said. "But as soon as you're losing a week or two weeks (of school), as is the case in some jurisdictions across Canada ... there is a legitimate case to be made that there's significant learning loss."
One Ontario school board is trying a new approach in responding to severe weather.
The superintendent of the Waterloo Region District School Board said Tuesday marked the district's second "weather-impacted distance learning day," allowing virtual studies to continue through school and bus closures.
Scott Miller said in previous years, students were still expected to attend school when transportation services were suspended on account of snow. But that's changed under the school board's new COVID-19 snow day policy, shifting all learning to the online sphere.
Because not all students have access to devices, these modified snow days will be used to review what they've learned rather than teaching new concepts, said Miller.
When normal studies can safely resume, he said, the school board is considering offering a hybrid of online and in-person learning so students can keep up with their studies regardless of whether buses are running, he said.
"Students do look at snow days with exuberance. Or did in the past, certainly, as they saw it as a day that they didn't have to necessarily engage in school," said Miller.
"This year, (we're) ... really taking advantage of some of the experiences so that we are learning through what has been an incredibly difficult time."
Krista Harquail, a mother of two in York Region, said she welcomes the shift toward online learning as a way to ensure that students, staff and parents alike stay safe rather than risk driving to school in subpar conditions.
She recognizes that snow days put pressure on parents who don't have the option of working from home. But if kids are going to be home regardless, they may as well be learning something, Harquail said.
"Perhaps this is a step to make education better in the long run," she said. "No one's really falling behind."
Harquail added that parents still have the option of pulling their children out of class if they want to make the most of the powder for seasonal pastimes, such as snowball fights and tobogganing.
Still, she said her kids were disappointed to learn that they wouldn't be going back to class Tuesday.
"I think this one hit a little bit differently than normal snow days," said Harquail.
"(My daughter) almost started crying today. Because she's like, 'Oh, I thought I was going to go back to school and see my friends.'"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press