Whatever else it was — a chance for kids to sleep in, to go sledding or build a snowman taller than Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert — the snow day for schools along the Wasatch Front was a rarity.
It’s been at least two decades, possibly more, since the last one.
“It’s almost unheard of,” said Sandra Riesgraf, spokeswoman for Jordan School District, on Wednesday. “The last time has to have been 1996 or 1998.”
All five public school districts in Salt Lake County canceled classes, as did Park City and Tooele, too, as a late-night snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow some places and left ice-coated roads in others. By morning, the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, LDS Business College and Westminster College also closed their campuses for the day as flakes continued to fall.
Most students and educators were simply smitten by the unexpected holiday.
Jayde Prudden, a fourth grade teacher at The McGillis School in Salt Lake City, put on a neon ski suit and rode her bike around in the snow. Two teachers at Granite Park Junior High posted pictures of themselves riding carts down the school’s empty hallways and playing dodgeball. Sue Childress, the director of nursing at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the U., slid across campus in a pair of cross country skis.
Some parents posted pictures wearing white T-shirts that said, “Snow day supporter,” along with shots of their kids having snowball fights.
John Hunt, a Utah father of nine, said he had a snow day during his senior year at Cyprus High School in January 1993. Now, his son is a senior in the same school district and is having his first snow day.
“It’s bringing back memories,” Hunt, now 44, said.
He remembers his mom coming into his room, saying, “There’s no school today. There’s a lot of snow — go outside and look.” He spent the rest of the day building a snow fort.
Hunt’s 17-year-old son James didn’t go outside, though. It’s too cold, he joked; “I’ll leave that to my siblings.”
His twin brothers, 8, danced around the family’s kitchen Wednesday morning, chanting “Snow day! Snow day! Snow day!” They were bundled up in coats and mittens by 11 a.m.
“They’re excited. They’re getting their snow gear on,” John Hunt said.
Most of the closed districts canceled after-school programs, too. And school districts that chose not to cancel classes took some heat.
Alpine School District decided to stay open, posting on Facebook and Twitter: “Our plow crews and custodians have been out working hard to make sure schools are ready for business today.” And that led to a slew of comments — more than 1,200 — mostly from angry parents.
Julie Brinkerhoff wrote: “The wind is howling, the roads are awful and I’m not even sure I can get out of my driveway! Please cancel school. This is not safe!!!!!!”
Angie Miske posted: “My son just drove our truck to [Lone Peak High School] and got in an accident. I’m wondering if the school district will pay for the repairs since it’s really obvious school should have been canceled but my son really felt like he couldn’t miss school.”
Kimberly Bird, the district’s spokeswoman, said Utah County didn’t see as much snow as other places. She added that Alpine ultimately decided to hold school so that students would have a safe spot and parents who work wouldn’t need to find child care.
“We understand there are going to be people that are happy and frustrated with a decision like this,” Bird said. “It’s a hard decision.”
The district includes SunCrest, a development area near Draper, that sits on a steep hillside, as well as Lehi that gets large gusts of wind.
“It’s ultimately up to the parents” to send their kids to schools, Bird said. She assured that students who did not attend class Wednesday would not “be hurt or harmed in their grades or attendance.”
Nearby Provo and Nebo school districts also did not close. And many students there posted that they were jealous of their peers who got a snow day.
Riesgraf said Jordan School District employees were out monitoring the roads all night and decided at 3 a.m. that conditions were getting worse and they wouldn’t hold classes. Still, there will be at least one employee at every school throughout the day just in case a student showed up.
It’s been at least 18 years since Salt Lake City School District has had a snow day. And at Canyons School District, which was created about 10 years ago at the south end of Salt Lake County, this is the first snow day in its history. It’s likely the missed school day will be made up on President’s Day, on Feb. 18, but the district is still deciding and anticipates announcing that later this week.
“We made the right call,” Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney said. “It was just too unsafe for our students.”
Granite School District plans to have students make up the missed day May 24 — which falls one day after some of its high school seniors graduate.
The most recent snow day that The Salt Lake Tribune reported on was in January 2017, and it affected mostly northern Utah schools with closures at Box Elder County, Bear Lake County, Cache County and Logan districts.
There hasn’t been anything as widespread in Salt Lake County in recent years.
Jean Hill, a mother of three and a government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said her kids walked to a nearby hill to go sledding. Her son, a sophomore at Judge Memorial High School, still got a chemistry assignment from his teacher — who posted at 7 a.m. that’s “it’s 2019 and we have the internet” — but he decided to push it off until after he got outside for a bit.
“It’s not done yet, but he’s telling me it’s not going to be too hard. We’ll see what grade he gets on it,” Hill said with a laugh.
This is the first snow day her kids have had in Utah, where residents pride themselves on plowing bravely through feet of powder when people in other states stay home over an inch or less.
Her kids had asked the night before: “If the school doesn’t close, can we have a snow day any way?”
Hill laughed. “They got their wish. They’re all out today, and they’re loving it.”
— Salt Lake Tribune reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this story.