Why School Snow Days Are Terrible For Parents And Students Alike

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Washington, DC was left a slick and slushy mess on Friday after a massive ice storm swept the East Coast. While the federal government decided to open on a two-hour delay, schools in the DC area did not.

For most kids, snow days are an exciting prospect — a chance to get a freebie day from school, drink some hot cocoa and sit around the kitchen table, and maybe build a snow man. But on a macro level, the days off are actually terrible for both parents and kids:

FOR KIDS: Not all families have a cozy drink to give their kids when the weather gets bad. Some families, in fact, have nothing to feed them at all. Nearly 19 million children in the United States qualify for free lunch, and when schools shut their doors for the day, those children are left without a steady nutritional backup plan — particularly if it’s the end of the month and their families are depleted of government assistance. In the DC area, non-profit organizations are even mobilizing to deliver food to kids in low-income communities who are on their second day of missing lunch.

FOR PARENTS: When kids can’t go to school, that also can mean lost earnings for the parents. While the federal government might allow for unscheduled leave, private employers aren’t always so kind. A snow day in DC on Friday, for example, is leaving an hourly-waged worker at a fast food chain to either skip a day of work (and wages), or pay for care for their child. That’s exactly the choice Chicago Whole Foods worker Rhiannon Broschat faced when she was fired after taking the day off to take care of her son, whose school was closed during the polar vortex.

Days when work and school shut down are also not great for the economy of a city as a whole. The data can be nebulous on the topic — since it’s hard to know whether it’s a shutdown school or just a gray day — but snow storms generally cost cities hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages and retail sales.