Whenever we have snow, the school district receives some interesting comments and opinions about how the superintendent makes the decision to call a snow day and definitely, about whether or not they made the right decision!
As a new superintendent, I found myself responsible for making these calls for the first time this week and I would like to share with you the factors that I, and other superintendents, consider. We also recognize that the district hasn’t ever clearly shared the factors that are considered when determining whether schools should be closed due to snow.
When the snow starts to fall, we closely monitor the situation. It’s not an easy decision and one that has to be made early in the morning to allow parents and staff enough time to make arrangements and for our transportation department to deploy buses, if necessary.
The default is always to try to keep schools open if possible, except for when there are serious safety risks for students travelling to and from school.
The potential risk for student travel
We have a geographically large district that can see quite a variation in its weather patterns from north to south and on outlying islands, like Cortes. Given the size of the district, a significant number of our students rely on our buses to get them to and from school each day.
So the first consideration is – can our school buses safely run?
Our manager of operations coordinates with city crews and our head bus driver to give me an honest appraisal about the road conditions and whether our buses and professional drivers will be able to safely transport kids.
Our crews are out on the roads in the early morning hours, long before any decision is made about whether or not to close schools. We ask are the main roads cleared? Is public transit operating and have crews been able to, or will they be able to, clear pathways and school parking lots for the start of the school day?
The weather forecast
The next consideration is the weather forecast. What is Environment Canada forecasting? What is the hour-by-hour forecast during the school day up until dismissal?
We try to make the decision before 6:00 a.m. on the day of and while we appreciate many parents and staff would like it if we made the decision the night before that can only be done in extraordinary circumstances.
Unfortunately, as we all know, weather forecasts can be wrong and if we make the call too early, we could end up with closed schools based on a forecast of a big snowfall that never arrived. So, we make the best decision we can with the information we have available to us at the time and sometimes this means that the weather changes during the school day.
The strain on families
Snow days can be fun for families when a parent has the option to stay home or when students are old enough to stay home on their own. However, we also know that snow days can be difficult for some families, especially when parents have to miss days of work to care for their children and may struggle to pay the bills because of days off without pay.
Snow days can also be difficult for some students who depend on their school’s breakfast and lunch program, and for our younger students whose families do not have childcare options. Again, this is in part why we strive to keep schools open.
As the possibility for more snow remains in the forecast, I appreciate everyone’s understanding that we try to make the best possible decision with the information available to us at the time. At the end of the day though, please recognize that parents always have the choice in sending your child to school. Simply put, if you don’t feel comfortable sending your child to school, keep them home.
We care deeply for all students and do not make snow decisions lightly.
Dr. Jeremy Morrow
Superintendent of Schools