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West Virginia Schools Chief Declares A Snow Day Despite Remote Learning

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

On Monday, the superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools in West Virginia checked the weather. The forecast said up to 11 inches of snow. And in a normal year, that would probably merit a snow day. But this year - well, school has been remote because of the pandemic. Still, that did not stop the superintendent, Bondy Shay Gibson, from writing this letter.

BONDY SHAY GIBSON: (Reading) For generations, families have greeted the first snow day of the year with joy. It is a time of renewed wonder at all the beautiful things that each season holds, a reminder of how fleeting a childhood can be, an opportunity to make some memories with your family that you hold on to for life. For all of these reasons and many more, Jefferson County Schools will be completely closed for the first snow day of the year.

CHANG: She ended with this.

GIBSON: (Reading) We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up tomorrow. But for today, go build a snowman.

CHANG: Well, I asked Gibson why a snow day seemed right this year.

GIBSON: Truthfully, the idea was not wanting to put kids in a position to lose one more thing. We've been talking to kids a lot this year when we had to do alternative graduation, talking to them when the first day of school wasn't what they expected, talking to teachers as they had to learn new programs. And you just keep hearing about these losses, you know, all of these markers of childhood and their lives that they're mourning - and just wanting to give them one thing, one piece of normalcy to sort of get back to that in their lives.

CHANG: Well, when you first sent out this note, what kind of responses did you get from parents?

GIBSON: The thing that took me by surprise somewhat were the number of people who wrote me and texted and called with stories about their own childhood memories of snow days (laughter) - just overwhelming emotional reaction to getting something back, some sense of normalcy, the pre-pandemic life that they loved and they want back. And I think in some ways this struck a chord.

CHANG: It also gave people permission to enjoy some simple joy.

GIBSON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I was looking at all the pictures that families sent in, and it just really kind of hit me - snow days are about freedom.

CHANG: Yeah.

GIBSON: Like, this whole year has been restriction, restriction, restriction, and snow days were always about - be free. You don't have to come to school. You don't have to listen to your teachers. You don't have to (laughter) follow the normal rules. Go get messy and roll around in the snow.

CHANG: (Laughter) Exactly.

GIBSON: And, you know, it hit me like a ton of bricks this morning.

CHANG: Well, I know that you have a 14-year-old son, right?

GIBSON: (Laughter) I do.

CHANG: Well, how did you all spend your own snow day?

GIBSON: The snow was a little too powdery for a snowman, but the dogs were delighted. So we spent part of it mushing through the snow, having our excited pups drag us. So that was fun.

CHANG: (Laughter) I love it. I wish you all another snow day very soon before the school year is over.

GIBSON: Oh, well thank you so much. Thank you very, very much.

CHANG: Bondy Shay Gibson is superintendent of Jefferson County Schools in West Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us today.

GIBSON: Thank you so much. Have a lovely holiday.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JAM'S "MUSIC FOR THE LAST COUPLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.