It actually snowed on Cambridge's third snow day this week
Friday marked the third time this week that public schools in Cambridge were closed.
Officially, all of those were “snow days.” But while Monday and Tuesday were part of a frustrating delay to give staff and students last-minute COVID tests, Friday was the long-awaited, genuine article — and kids made the most of it.
Kingsley Park, a bowl-shaped space at the southern edge of the Fresh Pond Reservation, is West Cambridge’s top sledding spot. And by 2 o’clock Friday a steady traffic of toboggans and saucers had worn the bowl’s eight inches of snow cover down to the grass in places.
If not for a few people wearing face masks, it might have been a pre-pandemic scene. Some of the sledders said that the risk-free ritual was part of the allure.
Among them was Seb Frank, a student at the Baldwin School. Frank said he and his younger brother had both developed mild cases of COVID during the break. This was their first day back.
“I’m feeling pretty good, especially because I get to see my friends again,” Frank said after a sledding run with a convoy of classmates. “It’s super-nice not to be on a FaceTime or Zoom call.”
At the top of the hill, parents stood in small groups, chatting — and sometimes commiserating.
Administrators with the Cambridge Public Schools had opted to close schools Monday and Tuesday to make sure that staff and students had time to test for COVID before re-entering buildings after the break.
But on Thursday, CPS superintendent Victoria Greer announced that few of those tests had produced useful results due to delays and staffing shortfalls with CIC Health, the city’s testing partner. Greer called the news “incredibly disappointing to everyone involved.”
In the confusion, over 100 teachers and roughly 25% of students opted not to return to schools — at least not right away.
“The intention was good, but it didn’t seem like it was thought through,” said Katherine Armstrong while supervising sledding Friday. “Canceling school last-minute for working parents, asking them to come stand in line [for tests] for two hours in 25-degree weather, not getting the results back in, and telling everyone to come into school anyway — it certainly didn’t achieve the result” they were hoping for, said Armstrong, who has two kids in the district.
Some parents, foreseeing chaos, had opted to keep their kids out of school this week as well. But despite some reservations, Armstrong’s family elected to send both her children back in Wednesday and Thursday. “They need to be in school — it’s a real need they have and it preempts the risk.”
Armstrong said she shudders at the thought of returning to remote learning, which she described as “horrible” for her family. But she and others acknowledged their frustration mingling with the thrill and beauty of a wintry day in the park.
Jason Pugatch acknowledged that the last-minute push to test in Cambridge was “a bit of a debacle, but they admitted it. Onward and upward.”
Pugatch observed that, like so many things, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the New England ritual of snow days: first by getting lost in extended remote schooling, or being used to shore up safety measures. Bundled up, he happily watched his two daughters take run after run down the hill.
“It does feel like a bit of hope,” Pugatch said with a laugh. “Like, maybe one day, we’ll get back to normalcy, where kids are kids and snow days are snow days.”