Study: Snow closures for schools aren't bad for kids

A new Harvard study reports that school closures from weather have little impact on student performance, while delayed school openings due to inclement weather have an adverse effect on some students.

Lisa Suhay
A new Harvard University study reports that while school closures seems to have little affect on overall student performance, school opening delays due to inclement weather most negatively impact students from low-income, African- American, and Hispanic families. Quin Suhay, 10, plays in the snow with his dog Wag on a rare snow day in Norfolk, Va., on Jan 22.

Uptight parents worried about snow days negatively affecting their children’s academic performance can chill out. A new study from Harvard University reveals, “Closures are not associated with changes in achievement.”

“Moderately bad weather impacts absences and achievement. Extremely bad weather impacts closures but not achievement,” says the study’s author, Joshua Goodman of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

The study, titled “Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time and Student Achievement,” finds that keeping schools open in bad weather apparently results in low-income, African-American, and Hispanic kids missing class time. 

One might guess that the negative impact stems from the fact that low-income parents might be off to work in any weather, meaning that school delays leave kids to find their own way to school.

It could also mean that kids who rely on elderly extended-family members – who may fear driving in dangerous conditions – for their transportation to school may end up missing class time while others make it to school.

A full school closure seems to mean a level playing field for all students with no instruction time missed, since snow days are often made up at the end of the school year.

For parents who work full-time outside the home, foul weather days are full of anxiety for the entire family.

A delayed school opening can mean suffering the consequences of coming to work late as the parent or leaving kids to their own devices to help themselves get to school. 

Because this study was done only in Massachusetts, where schools tend to close once snow reaches above the four-inch mark, parents like me, living in southerly climates, may have a little trouble relating.

Here in Norfolk, Va., we get rain and school when the rest of the state and Northeast are home playing in the snow. Four inches of snow? Norfolk has more than once shut down schools with only a threat of snow in the forecast.

When President Obama was elected to his first term, it snowed on inauguration day – everywhere but here. Not a flake or flurry. Still, it was “threatening snow,” so the entire city and its schools closed.

To this day, parents lovingly refer to this as “SnObama Day.”

Since then, the Norfolk public school system has been extra cautious about making the call to shut down.

In fact, while we have had several hurricane-related closures in recent years, there has not been a single snow day called in our district in over three years.

That all changed today, when temperatures dropped to a rare 14 degrees Fahrenheit, winds gusted up to 50 m.p.h., and the snowed accumulation reached two-inches overnight.

Today, Norfolk Public Schools are closed and the kids, and parents alike, are elated. Moms across Norfolk were on Facebook last night posting their wishes for school closures so they too could finally get a turn at the classic winter wonderland activities, including: snow men, snow angels, snowball fights, rolling in the snow, sledding, and saving a snowball in the freezer to make snow cones.

The Harvard study is great news for parents here in the south because it removes the guilt of wishing for this rare snow day to spend having all the good times that will be frozen in time until our grandkids get to hear about them.

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