Monday, February 02, 2015

Snow Day or School Day?

It's a snow day in much of Southern Ontario. We got between 10-15cm of snow overnight in Toronto, with a forecast up to 20cm by the time it's done this morning. Other areas got up to 30 cm.  At our house we get a lot of drifting because we are at the top of a T-intersection, so I could barely get our screen door open this morning. But I pushed through and waded through the drifts to my shovel to clear a narrow path out to the sidewalk. Which wasn't yet cleared. (For the record, Scarborough sidewalks are cleared by the city with special sidewalk ploughs. But it's still snowing.)

You see, our schools in Toronto are open today, although school buses are cancelled. According to the news this morning and what I've seen on social media, most schools are closed in other areas of the GTA. And this has many Toronto parents upset.
I guess we could be doing this today.

If the roads aren't safe for the buses, then how are they safe for cars or pedestrians? I honestly don't know the answer to that, though my gut reaction is that a school bus is a very different vehicle than a car or SUV or minivan. Does it react differently on snowy, slippery roads? I can't find any information online this morning, so I can't answer that one either, but I'm keeping an open mind. If anyone has a definitive answer to this, I'd love to hear it!!

Our school is a small, neighbourhood school. The only students who arrive by bus are in the special ed classes. Some students are driven in, but the great majority walk or could walk. Since we are just around the corner, and I have work that needs to get done, Boo went to school. (Poor kid may never get a snow day with a mean mom like me.) He's also big on following rules, so if school is open and he's not ill, he feels he needs to be there. Works for me.

But when we arrived this morning I was really surprised at how few students had shown up, including students who normally walk to school. The argument that "no one will be there, so why bother" doesn't really work for me in this situation, since if we all just walked in like normal, about three quarters of the school would be in. But that's a personal decision, based on what works for your family. If you want your kids to have a snow day and you can swing that, more power to you!  For schools where a substantial portion of the students are bussed, if the buses are cancelled, then it's a different situation and I'd probably keep Boo home.

Regardless, there's a bigger issue of safety here. Unless there's a solid reason why school buses aren't safe on snowy roads, then if they are cancelled, shouldn't all schools be cancelled as well, for the safety of teachers and staff and students who arrive by car? Their safety is important as well, isn't it?

This past August, the ETFO (Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario) passed a motion recommending that when an Ontario school board cancels buses because of poor weather, then the schools should be closed as well. It makes sense to me. And it's already happening in Hamilton-Wentworth. Such a policy results in consistency, reduces confusion, and increases safety for all. Now, as a work from home parent, I realise that I am privileged to be able to keep my kid home with me if his school is closed, and not all parents are able to easily take a winter weather day or find reliable back-up. School closures can be very problematic in those instances, and those parents may have a very different view. It's a tough call.

Today, I feel like our school is fulfilling more of a daycare role than anything else. Not much new material can be reasonably covered with so many students absent.  Should I have kept Boo home? Should the TDSB have closed the schools? What do you think?

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