ANNAPOLIS VALLEY, NS - Some Kings County parents are upset about an Annapolis Valley Regional School Board decision to maintain the status quo in terms of school cancellations on stormy days.
The move stems from a two-question survey, issued by the AVRSB in December, that gathered information from parents, caregivers, staff and students. The majority of stakeholders supported continuing the practices previously in place.
The first question showed 70 per cent of people were in favour of closing schools on bad weather days over delaying start times by two hours.
The second question asked whether the AVRSB should announce early dismissals at 6 a.m. if weather forecasts indicate bad weather is coming later in the day. A total of 53 per cent of respondents preferred notifications by 6 a.m. about early school closures rather than closing schools entirely, prompting the board decision to announce early dismissals as early as possible.
In total, over 3,800 people responded to the survey.
Michelle Young is among the parents who voted against closing schools on both questions. She wonders why another option – cancelling busses instead of schools – wasn’t considered.
“The bottom line is cancelling schools is an out-dated way of thinking. Kids should be in school, and that’s what it comes down to,” says Young, who has two sons who attend Evangeline Middle School.
The school board’s position
Kristen Loyst, the communications and privacy officer for the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, said the survey was sent to schools to be distributed to parents in December.
Loyst says the school board advised schools to distribute the survey at their discretion, using whichever communication tools – email, phone calls or text messages – the school normally uses to communicate with students and parents.
It was also shared via the board’s Twitter and website.
The survey asked respondents to identify as parents or guardians, students, school board staff members or school community members, and then fill out the responses.
The number of snow days each year varies due to the severity of the weather and, with the AVRSB opting to close schools by county depending on conditions in each of the areas it represents – Annapolis, Kings and West Hants – can be lower in some areas over others. In the past five years, the highest number of snow days was in 2016-2017, when schools in Kings and West Hants counties were closed for 15 days and Annapolis County schools were closed for 14 days. The breakdown per region over the past five years was West Hants and Kings County with 47 and Annapolis County with 48.
On average, schools have been closed 10.5 days per year between the 2013-2014 and 2016-2017 school years. Already, students have missed five days in each county this year, with the most recent closure on Jan. 18.
Loyst said the survey results were one of several factors that led to the board’s decision to continue its current practice of cancelling school in bad weather.
What the parents have to say
Several parents, like Young, have spoken out since the board’s decision on questions they describe as ‘limiting,’ wondering why other options weren’t presented.
“I know for a fact I’m not the only parent who sees keeping schools open and cancelling busses as an easy solution,” says Young.
Young, who works as a paramedic, believes parents should decide whether it’s safe to drive their kids to school or not.
She bases this on her own experiences in school where she grew up in Ontario and on practices in Manitoba and Alberta, where busses are cancelled during bad weather, but schools remain open.
“Let the parents decide. If their kids stay home, so be it, but the option for them to go to school is there, at least,” she says.
Jaclyn Fredericks has a son who attends Kings County Academy and voted yes for delayed starts so students wouldn’t miss entire days of school.
She feels frustrated with the board’s decision to continue with the current practice since she sees other solutions that could be implemented.
“What about studded tires on busses for back roads and the mountain? We could also add seat belts, which should be installed anyway. Winter driving training for bus drivers could also help,” she says.
“Parents still have to go to work when snow storms happen. Why can’t we look at making busses safer so our kids can get to school?”
Lia Hennigar has two sons at Evangeline Middle School and voted for delayed starts, hoping school cancellations would stop. She also feels frustrated the survey only asked two short questions.
“They should have asked, ‘can parents get their kids to school when busses are cancelled,’ or even if parents had a car,” she says.
“The bottom line is that I want my kids in school. If they take in two classes that day, great. It's better than zero.”
The school board has confirmed a second survey is not currently planned.
Question 1: Should AVRSB make “two-hour delayed openings” part of its storm day procedures?
The breakdown of the 70 per cent who voted to cancel school on storm days is:
- 82 per cent of students
- 65 per cent of parents/guardians
- 79 per cent of staff, and
- 71 per cent of school community members
Question 2: Should AVRSB announce early dismissals at 6 a.m. if weather forecasts show bad weather is coming later in the day?
The breakdown of the 53 per cent who voted yes was:
- 38 per cent of students
- 55 per cent of parents/guardians
- 57 per cent of staff, and
- 51 per cent of school community members