Forget toothbrushes in the fridge, ice down the toilet or spoons under pillows: even if these rituals made it snow, the University of Kentucky has decided we won’t be having snow days.
“Students enrolled in online classes (or hybrid classes whose schedule for the day of closure or delay was to be virtual or online) would continue course work and meetings virtually, regardless of an emergency closure,” says the university’s inclement weather plan. Please, no.
We need snow days this semester; the potential of having a day off is a balm for the burnout of students and faculty alike.
We are not recovered from a trying fall semester. We got little rest over winter break as COVID-19 worsened across the country - not to mention a riot on our nation’s Capitol that we saw unfold in real time, and invoked stress, fear and panic. We need meaningful rest more than ever.
Unfortunately, the spring semester offers few days off for a mental health break. Because the semester was pushed back (an absolutely correct decision), we do not have a Monday off in January like normal. Because spring break was cancelled (an absolutely correct and necessary decision), we will not have a week off mid-semester.
Without snow days, there is no chance for a respite, even though our stresses will only be compounded by class.
Attending college this year is incredibly hard. We are juggling a pandemic, political turmoil, dubious employment situations, racial injustice, uncertain futures and all the anxieties of our “normal” lives.
Mentally, we’re exhausted. Emotionally, we’re strung out. Allowing snow days for everyone would give us a chance at a break, however brief, and still take less time than normal breaks.
The University of Kentucky only needs snow days once or twice a year; less than what we would get off for spring break, and they may not even be used. There is a large chance the UK would not even need to invoke snow day policy - so there is little reason to take them away.
Furthermore, the current plan for snow days is unfair. In-person classes would be cancelled, while online classes are expected to continue. This creates a hierarchy among students. Imagine being stuck on Zoom listening to a lecture while one’s roommates plan a movie marathon in the living room, and extend some empathy to the lone student left out in the cold.
And, requiring online classes to continue while in-person are cancelled punishes students for choosing online courses. Many did so because of the very real danger of COVID-19, and forcing them to go to class while in-person students are free to relax could easily be seen as punishing students who don’t want to be in-person and rewarding those who do, a dangerous dichotomy.
Additionally, the current inclement weather plan makes little allowance for the technical difficulties posed by said inclement weather.
“Utility outages local to the employee who is working remotely are not a reason to use emergency closing leave. Instead, supervisors should discuss with employees what work they can do during the (hopefully short) period of utility outage, how to flex the schedule later in the work week, and availability of applicable leave,” reads an email sent to university employees in December.
Given the thousand and one things that go wrong with Zoom, Wi-Fi and remote work on a normal day, more leniency for utility outages on snow days is necessary. It wouldn’t be a problem if everyone had the day off anyway.
What would you prefer: the small possibility of missing at most a few days instruction, days that would give students and staff a much-needed break, show equitable treatment of course modality, save everyone from dealing with near-certain faulty connections and demonstrate understanding and empathy from the university - or, remove all chance of snow days by holding onto a policy that would discriminate between course modalities and run students and faculty into the ground for no reason, since we’re not likely to get much work done during inclement weather anyway?
Most significantly, installing a policy of full snow days - no class at all, and lenient policies for employees working from home - would alleviate one of the pandemic’s greatest weights by giving us something to look forward to again.
After nearly a year inside our homes, denying ourselves many of the things we enjoy, it is hard to look into the future and be excited about something. It’s hard to imagine a time when we might feel ok again. We have so little going for us, so give us something to look forward to. Give us something to hope for.
The mental health benefit of having something to look forward to - even something that is not guaranteed - is almost equal to the benefit of a day off. Even if we did not end up using the snow days, it would be better to hope for them than to face the drudgery of this relentlessly oncoming semester knowing there is no chance for relief.
But the chance for a snow day - that would be something to anticipate. We could have something to wish for, something to hope for: a bright new day with spotless snow, a future as clean as an untouched landscape.
(And professors, if the university continues with this inclement weather plan, there is a clause stating that courses can be cancelled at the discretion of the instructor. Use your discretion wisely).