Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Snow daysLet’s get one thing straight from the start: On the scale of COVID pandemic misery, this issue ranks near the bottom. Death, long-term illness, unemployment, business closures and dozens of other calamities have had a far more devastating impact.

That being said, I feel sorry for students — not to mention teachers — who are slowly losing one of the most cherished perks of the public education system.

Snow days.

No, this hasn’t been, and won’t be, an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all ruling. I suspect inclement weather will occasionally halt daily instruction well into the future.

Nothing new about that. Even in Way Back When B.C. (Before Coronavirus), the snow-day application was both subjective and selective, thanks to geography and local custom. A four-inch snowfall that terrorizes the Deep South is ho-hum stuff up North.

Not necessarily the subtropical Southland either. Here in Knoxville, a heavy frost has been known to create panic in the streets. But you catch my (non-snow) drift.

Yet the die has been cast. Virtual instruction, born of necessity during the pandemic, is slowly relegating snow days to the schoolhouse dust bin, along with chalk, hickory sticks and “See Spot run.”

The magical term “classes canceled” will be heard fewer and fewer times as the years go by. Instead, school officials will simply say “log in.”

Ask anyone who ever hovered over the radio as cancellations were being announced: Snow days were a special treat, like finding a wadded-up dollar bill in the pocket of your jeans. You never expected this bounty to repeat itself on a regular basis, but you dang-sure enjoyed the moment when it did.

Especially if you were sweating a big test.

The elation was bogus, of course. That same test was certain to arrive 24, 48 or 72 hours later. But just like Miss Scarlett, we worried about tomorrow some other time.

Occasionally, snow days proved too much of a good thing. Luxurious free time in February became torture in June. You see, school systems always pad the calendar with potential weather closures. But during a particularly harsh winter, cancellations can occur so frequently the final payment is excruciating. 

Knoxville baby boomers might recall February 1960, when snow shut down Knox County schools repeatedly. Settling this debt meant no Easter vacation plus — gasp! — a Saturday session or two.

From Amherst to Anderson, Halls to Karns, Mount Olive to Mooreland Heights, indignant students vilified then-Superintendent Mildred E. Doyle with a chat I remember to this day: “Mildred Doyle should be boiled in oil!”

If only lessons from algebra, physics and Latin were etched this deeply in my brain.

Sam Venable is an author, comedic entertainer, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. His latest book is
“The Joke’s on YOU! (All I Did Was Clean Out My Files).” He may be reached at