Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Under the University's new inclement weather policy, future snow days are unlikely.

December 2, 2020

Snow Days No More: Students Not Warming to Cornell’s New Policy for the Coldest Days

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The days of students waking up early and checking their windows to see if enough snow has fallen for the University to close campus are now a relic of the past: Cornell has effectively axed the possibility of snow days — a casualty of the adaptation to virtual learning. 

In a Tuesday email, Executive Vice President Joanne DeStefano MBA ’97 wrote that, if the University closes due to inclement weather, students in in-person courses “may be required to take an online version of the missed class, as scheduled, if an online version is already available.”

Virtual classes — which includes all classes currently, since the transition after Thanksgiving break — are expected to continue as scheduled. Cornell’s new policy is in effect for both the fall and spring semesters for this academic year.

While the move to online instruction during inclement weather seems like a capability perfected as a result of the pandemic, it has the, perhaps unintentional, effect of making snow days obsolete.

But even before DeStafano announced the new policy, snow days at Cornell were already a rarity, despite past inclement weather. The University canceled classes due to snow for the first time since 1993 in March 2017. Cornell saw another snow day in March 2018 after forecasts predicted Ithaca would receive at least six inches of snow. Most recently, the University had two snow days during the 2019 to 2020 academic year. 

Students at Cornell have faced many new changes to normal life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including foregoing most social gatherings, strict occupancy limits in dorms and other campus buildings, and revised schedules which eliminated breaks. 

“COVID-19 has already taken so many things away from us,” said Harley Dreiling ’24, lamenting the loss of snow days.

And for many students, this means the unexpected days where the administration sagely chooses to close for the wellbeing of students, staff and faculty, will no longer be filled with snowtime foolery.

Kurt Huebner ’21 jumps off a makeshift snow ramp on Libe Slope after classes were cancelled and the Ithaca campus was closed on Feb. 7.

This spring, it seems the students sledding — and even skiing — off Libe Slope, building snowmen on the Arts Quad and temporarily pushing academics aside for the day will be on pause. 

John Hanna ’24 described the updated snow day policy as contributing to the feeling that semesters on campus feel like an “endless marathon.” 

“Snow days have always been like a psychological break for students,” Hanna said. “Especially during semesters like this fall and the spring where there haven’t been that many breaks.”

The new policy comes just weeks after an announcement about the updated spring semester schedule, which no longer includes a week of spring break, but instead two smaller “wellness breaks” scattered throughout the semester. 

“If you take away the snow days and we have to go online, it’s really going to put a hamper on student experiences,” said Chiara Signorelli ’24.

Without snow days, some students are worried about how their psychological wellbeing will be affected by the harsh winter weather in Ithaca: Dreiling said this policy “will bring an entirely new meaning to seasonal depression,” as students will be locked up in their rooms attending class rather than bundled up and enjoying the snow.