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Many wondered if remote learning would kill snow days. To Colorado students’ relief, they were wrong.

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A flurry of lessons awaited kids within the ankle-deep snow of Denver’s Ruby Hill Park on Thursday morning as flakes swirled all around them.

One particularly important lesson that doubles as a lifesaving skill: A sled can be used as a shield during a snowball fight.

That was among the most useful pieces of wisdom Luis Rodriguez passed on to his two children, one of whom was busy sculpting snowballs so big they might have been better suited for a snowman. 

“We all decided let’s all jump in a car, drive out to Ruby Hill, let the kids have some fun and, of course, we also secretly have some fun,” Rodriguez said while braving the winter elements with his family during a highly anticipated snow day.

To the relief of many Colorado students, snow days — which some thought would become a distant memory of the past with the rise of remote learning — have survived the pandemic with cold weather gusto. 

Districts across the Front Range shut down schools Thursday, with some also planning to remain closed Friday as snowfall totals ranged from 8 inches to 2 feet by late Thursday afternoon. Schools could have potentially shifted to online learning to prevent students from losing out on more instruction time, returning to Chromebooks and Zoom as they did in the pandemic’s early days. But most districts hit hard by snow — from Denver Public Schools to Harrison School District 2 in Colorado Springs — decided to give students and teachers the day off.

Harrison School District 2 opted for a snow day for a mixture of reasons, including the safety of students and staff. Mental well-being was a consideration, too, Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel said. “Snow days are needed now more than ever.”

Five-year-olds Maryn and Finley make snow angels at Denver’s Ruby Hill Park March 14, 2024, during a snow day. After remote learning became a key educational tool during the pandemic, many wondered if it would make snow days obsolete. Most districts on the Front Range, however, are still implementing snow days during big winter storms. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

A snow day sets aside time for students to step outside and build a snow fort or spend all day in their pajamas with their family and friends, Birhanzel said.

“This is your downtime of being a kid, and we’re going to give you that advantage,” she said.

Most districts opted for a snow day but at least one turned to online learning

Every student in the Harrison School District — which educates nearly 12,400 kids in preschool through high school — has a device, but not all students have access to the internet or a stable enough internet connection to cater to more than one child, Birhanzel said. Additionally, many students take over for their working parents and care for younger siblings.

“The last thing we need to do is say, ‘do your math or reading,’” Birhanzel said.

Brennan, 8, and Maryn, 5 make snow sculptures at Denver’s Ruby Hill Park March 14, 2024. Their family set out to enjoy their first snow day in a long time before heading home to focus on penmanship, reading and mastering “tricky” words. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The district, which serves a high population of kids from low-income families, also never considered remote learning over a snow day because of what Birhanzel calls “an unreasonable expectation” that online schooling thrusts onto teachers and a worry that the quality of learning will suffer.

“The reality is for a teacher to teach in person and then asynchronous or virtual is really impossible,” she said. “They can’t do it from both worlds. If the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us that not every instructional person can do online teaching and kids do not learn all virtually.”

She hopes the snow day is as restorative for teachers as it is for students.

“It gives us all a chance to breathe and get caught up,” Birhanzel said, “and come back and do our best work for kids.”

Sledders gather at Denver’s Ruby Hill Park March 14, 2024. Families eager to take advantage of a snow day after a big winter storm moved across the Front Range flocked to the park to cruise over the powder. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

In Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, snow days have also once again become “the norm,” district spokesperson Scott Pribble said. 

“Students no longer have school-issued computers at home, so expecting everyone to quickly pivot to online learning isn’t equitable,” Pribble wrote in a text message to The Colorado Sun.

When inclement weather pops up, he said, the district has the option to start classes late, release students early or close school. 

Neither DPS nor Harrison School District 2 will need to make up class time lost Thursday with an additional day at the end of the school year as they will still meet the amount of classroom time mandated by the state.

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