By Jessica Lovell
Guelph schools might be feeling like they’re getting the cold shoulder when it comes to that most wonderful of holidays – the snow day.
So far this year, schools in Guelph have seen two days with bus cancellations and only one day that schools were actually closed. Their counterparts in Dufferin County have had six no-bus days and schools have been closed four times. “Dufferin has been particularly hard-hit this year,” said Maggie McFadzen, communications officer for the Upper Grand District School Board.
In addition to the increased snowfall, Dufferin County was hit with blowing snow that closed down roads and caused the county to declare a state of emergency. That led to a rare situation on Jan. 29 in which students were actually sent home from school on a day that buses ran in the morning. “It’s not something we do often,” said McFadzen, noting the process took about three hours.
The school board avoids sending kids home, if it can. So on Feb. 5, when students and staff arrived at Erin high school to find there was no running water, rather than close the school and try to send kids home, portable toilets and bottled water were brought in for the day.
“We don’t like to run the buses in the middle of the day . . . unless it’s a critical situation,” McFadzen said.
But the day was also snowy enough to have parents questioning why the buses weren’t cancelled in the morning, she said.
The reason: “At 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., when those decisions were made, everything was fine,” she said. But students in Dufferin County, which got less snow that day, enjoyed another no-bus day.
It is not a school board decision to cancel buses, but rather the decision of Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Services.
The area that this organization covers is divided into four divisions, and buses are cancelled on a division-by-division basis.
“We have such variations in geography across the district,” said McFadzen.
While there are a handful of rural schools that close when buses aren’t running – because their students rely almost exclusively on bus transportation – decisions about school closures are left up to the director of education.
In Guelph, schools were closed on Jan. 7 this year as part of a complete system shutdown. Buses were cancelled and schools were closed board-wide.
Though road conditions probably appeared better than on some other days when schools remained open, the reason for the closure was weather-related. It was -35 C with the windchill, said McFadzen.
Cold weather – regardless of road conditions – can also be a reason to cancel buses.
“The buses won’t start when it’s -25 C real temperature,” McFadzen said.
But schools stay open and parents are still welcome to drive their kids to school, she said.
It is also up to the parents to ensure their kids are getting enough learning time in spite of the number of days off school. There is no contingency for extending the school year to make up for school closures or no-bus days, said McFadzen.
That goes for Dufferin County, too, where many kids have missed the equivalent of two weeks of school.
The school board’s website offers resources to help parents ensure their kids keep learning, McFadzen said. “There are all kinds of other ways that parents can do learning with their kids,” she said. “If parents are worried, they should be talking to their child’s teacher and their principal.”
By Jessica Lovell