Snow Day Busy-Work Required When School Is Canceled: Who Benefits and Who Falls Behind?
The call came during my first sip of coffee this morning. No school. Snow day. Most kids rejoice, but my oldest son frowned big. "But I want to learn!" I started spouting off all of the fun things the two brothers could do and get into today, knowing full well the wrench it threw into my own day. Promises of making a snowman, mugs of hot chocolate, and a snowball fight worked a little bit to turn his frown upside down. Then his face lit up. "Does this mean we get to do our Blizzard Bag today?" It was my turn to frown.
What a snow day should look like!
In Ohio, we are given five "Calamity Days" for snow, ice, and other reasons for school to be canceled. We do not have to make up those days when school is canceled; they are built into our calendar. The problem is that when we have to cancel school for a sixth, seventh, or like last year, eleventh day, we previously ended up sticking those days onto the end of our school year. No one likes that, so the answer this year seems to be these Blizzard Bags. When school is canceled on the sixth day, students are to open their bags and complete the assignments. My Kindergartener and second grader both have a number of worksheets to complete. Apparently high schoolers can access their assignments online, though access to the Internet is not a requirement to complete the work. Assignments are required to be turned in within two weeks of the cancellation or the student will be marked with an unexcused absence and receive a failing grade on the assignment. Each bag contains three extra days of assignments, giving us an option to cancel school eight days total this year without adding onto the calendar.
I have a number of problems with this concept.
1) We received no notice ahead of time that this concept was even a possibility. I actually first heard about the new policy via Facebook as another building's bags came home before my sons brought theirs home. As is the way of social media, word spread quickly and added to the confusion of a new way of doing things. Prior notice would have helped alleviate some of that, and an open discussion with parents before implementing the policy would have been greatly appreciated as a number of things seem drastically wrong with this hasty decision.
2) I work from home. On the one hand, that means my family is lucky. We don't have to scramble for childcare when the call comes in. On the other hand, it's not like I sit here and eat Bon-Bons all day long. I have a number of conference calls and deadlines everyday. While the boys' assignments don't seem all that hard, they're young enough to need at least some guidance, in addition to being deserving of my attention when it comes to homework. As such, to help them with their assignments, I will end up working in broken bits of time, most likely working for hours after they've gone to bed to make up for the time spent working on what is nothing more than busy-work... for parents.
3) What about the parents who don't work from home, and instead go to work every single day, snow day or not? Are the childcare providers then expected to help the students with their assignments? I figure this might not be totally out of question if Grandma is providing care for one or two children, but what if Grandma is providing care for all of her grandchildren? What if the childcare provider is an in-home care provider with six different school-aged children and two infants? Now she's also expected to run multiple school lessons? If the answer is that students can do their Blizzard Bag assignments after their parents get home from work in the evening, that seems ridiculously unfair to the parents who just worked a full day and are now expected to "do school" with their kids rather than make dinner, relax, and enjoy time with their kids. These parents do homework with their children on a regular basis, yes, but not a day's worth of assignments. If the argument then is that these assignments are "light" assignments and shouldn't take much time to complete in an evening, no more than homework, I question whether or not we're educating our children with this busy-work or if we're cheating them out of a day of learning.
4) What about the children whose parents simply don't care? They exist. We're going to allow children to get an F simply because no one in their life cares enough to help them, to remind them to complete an assignment, to make sure it's completed? Oh, good. That seems like we're making decisions for our students with their best intentions in mind, doesn't it? Yes, older students can and should be held responsible for their own assignments, but giving a failing grade to a young elementary school aged child seems harsh at best.
5) Busy-work is not the same as a school day. Doing "homework" at home -- by yourself if you're one of those kids without involved parents -- isn't the same thing as attending school. The school district expects me to facilitate and oversee busy-work for up to three days, thus cheating my children out of a real learning environment with licensed teacher and peers and real school work. As the school in question isn't a private school, I could add in a sentence about my tax dollars at work right here. Do I get the teacher's pay for the day in addition to the full day of work I have to put in so that my family can eat? No? Swell. Additionally, we're not cheating teachers out of pay for this day off, are we? Because they have to "grade" this busy-work, making more work for them in the end, as they can get assignments on the first day back, all the way up to two weeks later.
Listen, I don't want to go to school until July either. I purposefully don't schedule our family vacations within two weeks of the initially scheduled end of school date because I know we run the risk of adding days on to the end of the year. It's a fact of life when you live in an area that receives any amount of winter weather. Quite honestly, I feel that part of the problems stems from school officials unnecessarily cancelling school due to fear of being sued if a bus has an accident on a slippery road or a high school student wrecks on the way to or from school on a suspect day. I don't want to get all "back in my day," but back in my day, we went to school unless ice was involved -- and even then, it had to be a significant amount of ice to warrant a cancellation. We utilized two hour delays and early dismissals as need be, but we went to school. Last week, nearby districts canceled without actually seeing the weather; they canceled on the basis of the weather report -- which resulted in delayed weather arrival and a totally unnecessary cancellation.
I don't know what the answer is, but I feel that this Blizzard Bag option wasn't thoroughly thought out or discussed. We're setting certain students up for failure and seemingly not caring about it all to save ourselves a few days at the end of the year.