by Kelly Wheeler ’21
In order to combat the unique educational challenges imposed by COVID-19, Providence College has become one of the thousands of universities around the world to adopt Zoom technology. Zoom is an incredibly useful and powerful platform; with it, there is seemingly nothing that could stand in the way of bringing people together—not even inclement winter weather.
Before the pandemic, snow storms could cause university-wide class cancelations due to the dangerous road conditions and on-campus walking hazards that stood in the way of safely traveling to class. However, now that Zoom has enabled students and faculty to meet remotely, these weather-related issues cease to present any barriers. That being the case, it may appear as though there is no more need for snow days. Yet, when considering factors beyond the physical difficulty of traveling to classrooms, it becomes clear that the PC community would greatly benefit from snow day cancelations in other ways.
A major reason that snow days are still needed during the COVID-19 pandemic is to accommodate professors with young children. While a student may have no problem logging into Zoom to attend class on a day when weather conditions are poor, it may not be so easy on the professor’s end.
Professors who are working parents may experience difficulties arranging for childcare assistance that frees them up to teach, for the winter weather could have left them without coverage. As Dr. Abigail Brooks, director of the women’s and gender studies program and associate professor of sociology and anthropology, said, “Snow days—even pre-pandemic—can be tough on working parents with infants, toddlers, and elementary-aged children who are expected to be at work, despite snow/adverse weather conditions, and despite daycare and school closures.” Even though PC may be equipped to continue “business as usual” amidst winter weather, local schools and daycares may be shut down or delayed, and babysitters may be unable to safely travel to work, resulting in the need for professors to watch their kids while simultaneously facilitating online learning for their students.
“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” said Dr. Eve Veliz-Moran, associate professor of sociology. “Because school closures are often announced in the morning, parents are left scrambling to find someone to watch their children while they ‘Zoom’ into work. There are emergency child care services available, but it is not realistic that a parent will feel comfortable bringing someone into their home who the children have never met and be able to explain everything that needs to be done and be on time for an 8:30 a.m. class.” The last-minute nature of snow day cancelations made by people and places beyond PC can create difficulties for professors. As such, this must be taken into account when deciding whether to institute class cancelations at PC.
In addition to professors, PC must also consider the positive impact that snow days could have on its students. Due to the pandemic, the College has opted to replace the traditional spring break with a handful of midweek breaks dispersed throughout the semester. Although these scattered days off serve as an excellent alternative to an extensive break period that could allow unsafe travel to take place, PC should consider the added benefit that sporadic snow days could have on its community as well. Having an occasional, unscheduled day without classes would allow PC students to refresh by catching up on homework, getting extra sleep, and spending more time with people in their pods (or family members at home in the case of commuters and remote-only students).
Granted, the spring semester has only recently begun, so students may not find themselves desperate for a break just yet. However, if winter weather persists in the coming weeks, PC needs to evaluate whether holding remote classes on a day that would have been declared a snow day in a pre-Zoom world is the best idea. During these stressful and emotionally challenging times, sometimes it is the little things that make the largest difference. A snow day could be just that.
When weighing the pros and cons of class cancelations, all factors must be considered. Ultimately, to support professors with children and to positively impact the mental health of its students—and faculty, for that matter—PC must reassess whether doing away with snow days would truly be in the best interest of the entire College community.