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Following the announcement of a “virtual snow day” Tuesday morning amid heavy snowfall overnight, some Ann Arbor Public School parents celebrated the canceling of remote classes, while others criticized the school district for canceling school in a year where learning is already completely remote.

The day off came after AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift indicated that the school district will hold off on returning to in-person classes despite recent calls from parents to return children to classrooms. Since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that public school districts are encouraged to begin reopening by March 1, Ann Arbor community members have debated whether or not the school district should return.

Due to the heavy snowfall, a regular in-person school day would have been canceled according to the district’s school closing guidelines. Swift wrote in an email to the AAPS community Tuesday morning that the snow day was meant to give children a break from the demands of virtual learning, reminiscent of the “simple joys” of pre-COVID times.

“Snow days are opportunities for children, young people, and adults to play in the snow, read books, take a break, and enjoy the winter season,” Swift wrote. “These days are unexpected opportunities to make memories, to have fun and to celebrate community.”

AAPS parent Thomas Pedroni, an associate professor of curriculum studies at Wayne State University, has two children in the school district. Pedroni said he thinks the virtual snow day was a great idea because the time away from the computer gives children and families time to rest. 

“I think it was a very welcome moment of joy for many families,” Pedroni said. “My children were exhilarated and did a happy dance.” 

Ellen Lynch, a parent of a senior at Skyline High School, also approved of the day off, saying a snow day reminded her of what a normal school year was like for her child.

“We were delighted to have the virtual snow day,” Lynch said. “It was a welcome relief from the whole day of Zoom classes, and it was a wonderful connection to a normal school year.”

While some families viewed the virtual snow day as a “personal wellness day,” other AAPS parents, like Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, disapproved. Bagley said children have been cooped up for too long and should be learning as much as possible.

“We’ve all had the opportunity to play in the snow,” Bagley said. “What we need is learning … We shouldn’t be looking for a reason to provide even less school for our kids.”

Bagley said the announcement of the virtual snow day felt insensitive, given that children have already been missing almost six months of in-person schooling. A virtual snow day also contributes to parental stress, which is at an all-time high because of the pandemic, and makes it difficult for parents to get work done, Bagley said.

“What I want to communicate is just how tone deaf the superintendent seemed to be towards the concerns of working parents who are desperate to get more learning to their kids and to provide them with a structure they need for their mental health and for their development,” Bagley said.

Parents who are working from home have faced significant challenges balancing professional and personal responsibilities. The effects from the COVID-19 pandemic have particularly harmed lower-income families, who have struggled with job loss and food insecurity. Children from lower-income families also sometimes face limited access to stable internet connection, making virtual learning difficult if not impossible.

AAPS parent Hava Levitt-Phillips, an English professor at Washtenaw Community College, said she was delighted to have the virtual snow day, but also recognized how some families may have had a tougher time balancing work and taking care of their children.

“We’re very conscious that we’re very lucky. When we have a snow day for our kids, we’re able to really be present with them,” Levitt-Phillips said. “People who have to work full time, people for whom their employers are not as understanding or they don’t have the same flexibility. (We understand) that it’s different for them.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequality, Lynch, the parent of the Skyline senior, said she thinks having one virtual snow day won’t make a huge impact.

“One more day away from Zoom is not going to make or break anybody.” Lynch said. “We’ve been remote since the beginning, and I’m not speaking for everybody, but kids are accustomed to doing remote learning in their home anyway.”

Daily Staff Reporter Cynthia Huang can be reached at huangcyn@umich.edu.

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