Climate change, remote learning threaten tradition
Generations of local high school students have fallen asleep with the hope that, come sunrise, a forecasted snowstorm will close the schools, freeing up the day for sledding at Winter Hill in Garrison or Memorial Park in Beacon.
Unfortunately, snow days are under threat because of the pandemic-tested ability of school districts to switch to virtual learning and a lack of snow as Highlands winters grow warmer.
Districts traditionally account for weather-related closures in their calendars to meet a state mandate that students receive at least 180 instructional days during an academic year. In September, the New York State Board of Education amended its policies to allow districts to switch to online learning instead of closing for bad weather.
Administrators at the Beacon and Garrison districts say they are keeping traditional snow days, for now. Beacon closed on Jan. 25 ahead of a forecasted snowstorm that did not materialize.
In contrast, Haldane has instituted a hybrid model: Its calendar sets aside a maximum three days for inclement weather, said Philip Benante, the superintendent. If there is bad weather beyond that, the district will shift to remote instruction.
None of that matters, however, if there is no snow, which is becoming less predictable as climate change creates warmer winters in the Northeast. On Jan. 30, New York City marked its 327th consecutive day without measurable snow, five days short of the record of 332 days set on Dec. 15, 2020. (That record remained intact when several inches fell in Central Park on Feb. 1.)
The Highlands is also barren. Just 3.6 inches of snow were recorded in Beacon in December and January, according to the National Weather Service.
Vicky Kelly, who collects long-term data about air and water pollution and precipitation as manager of environmental monitoring at the Cary Institute, said global warming is bringing more rain and less snow in the winter months. “Rain in the winter is bad, because it can flood,” she said. “In the future, I think there will be a shift in what constitutes a snow day — instead there will be more ‘weather days’ because of flooding.”
Bianca Beriguete, a Beacon resident who attends the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, said “snow days have always been such an exciting and spontaneous thing to look forward to.” But because there are so many planned but unused snow days this year, the school on Feb. 13 simply gave students a day off.
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