Canadian School Closure Policies due to Weather Conditions

=== by Bob Sutherland ===

This is an explanation of when Canadian school principals or school board officials are likely to close schools due to weather conditions.


Northern Canadian Schools

In Canada's remote northern communities the school principal will probably close the school on days when the temperature drops to -40 degrees Celsius or the wind chill drops to -40. The school principal may consider closing the school for the younger students in the elementary grades when the temperature drops to -35 degrees Celsius or the wind chill drops to -35. The school principal typically makes the decision to close the school early in the morning as the rest of the community is just starting to wake up. Here are some options the school principal may consider:

"Parent's discretion" means that the school principal is refusing to make the decision to close the school. In this situation responsibility then falls on the parents to decide if it is safe to send their children and teenagers to school in the cold weather. This usually happens when the temperature or wind chill equivalent is expected to be in or near the range of -35 to -40 degrees Celsius.

After closing the school or publicly announcing that student attendance is at the parent's discretion the school principal will instruct the school staff that they should mark a "W" for cold weather day on their student attendance registers. The school staff will then be told that they should not include the cold weather day when determining which students qualify for perfect (or near perfect) attendance awards.

In some schools the attendance awards are the most cherished awards given out by the school. Both the parents and their children consider themselves to be the winners of the attendance awards since the parents managed to get their children to school everyday.

A school principal with many years of experience always seems to remember that one time when he or she decided to close the school very early one morning and then later that day the school yard was full of children playing outside. When this happens often the children will start banging on the school doors and windows because they are cold and want to come inside to warm up, to use the toilet, or to get a drink of water. The school principal will not get much quiet time to do paperwork in the school office if children are banging on the school doors and windows.


Aboriginal Communities in Northern Canada

If the school principal closes the school for students because of cold weather but requires the school staff to attend then many school staff members may bring their own children, the neighbour's children, their relative's children and a few other children with them to school.

Please understand that included among the school staff members are often some of the most respected and responsible parents, grandparents and babysitters in the small northern community. These teachers, teacher aides, librarians, secretaries and other staff members often help look after nearly as many children outside of school hours as they do during the school day. With the school officially closed there may be a lot of children playing in the building as the staff members attempt to supervise them while trying to stay warm and do some school work.

If the school principal insists on the school staff leaving all of the children at home while the school is closed then the school principal should expect that many of the local staff members will stay home as well to look after the children. The school principal is best advised not to complain as job applications being received by the community from prospective school principals are a dime a dozen while school staff members may be hard to replace.

In many aboriginal communities whenever the school principal announces that the school is closed everyone in the community takes a holiday. The school is usually the largest employer in a small northern community so it sets the work pattern for the community. While the students are attending school the adults tend to find work to do as housewives, artists, hunters, cutting firewood, or they may actually have a paying job. When the school closes many of the adults will stop working. To understand this phenomenon it is necessary for you to realize that in many northern Canadian aboriginal communities the preschool and school aged children vastly outnumber the adults. When the students are not attending class the adults have to stop working at their other jobs so that they can help look after all of the children.

Southern Canadian Schools

In Canada's southern cities with large school boards or school divisions a senior official such as a director of education or superintendent will usually make the decision and announcement to close some or all of their schools because of weather conditions. The decision is usually focussed on expected traffic problems during a major ice or snow storm rather than giving much consideration to the wind and cold temperatures.

Here are a few situations:


Budget Considerations

Many Canadian school boards include in their financial budgets and yearly plans a prediction of how often school buses will not run and how often schools will be closed for weather conditions. The predicted number of school closures and bus cancellations is based on past experience. Attempts to stay within the school board's financial budget means that education administrators are motivated to try to achieve a match between the actual number of school closures that year and the number they predicted. As a result the decision of whether a school will be closed or stay open on any particular day due to weather conditions is often influence by budget considerations and how frequently a school has already been closed that year.


Case study: An Unusual Storm

I can still remember back when I was a young child in elementary school being sent home early one afternoon during a hot sunny day. The school was suddenly closed by the school principal making an emergency announcement over the classroom speakers. All of the students and teachers were immediately sent home due to an approaching storm. We were told to go straight home quickly and warn our mothers and grandmothers about the approaching storm. It was probably during the month of September. Hurricanes do not normally reach as far inland as Toronto, one of Canada's largest cities, so I do not know where the storm came from. A storm with heavy rain and high winds did indeed start about an hour later. It arrived just at the time we would normally be getting out of school. The storm lasted all afternoon, evening and past my bedtime. The next morning there were things damaged and blown around all over my neighbourhood. Being too young for anyone to expect me to clean up such a mess I walked the short distance to school. There I discovered two large maple trees in the front yard of the school had major limbs broken off right at the "Y" in their trunks. The limbs laying on the ground were bigger in circumference than any teacher's torso. One fallen tree limb covered most of the school parking lot leaving the teachers with no place to park their cars. The other large tree limb was leaning against the front wall of the school blocking the front doors. Its branches full of large maple leaves were pushing up against many classroom windows.

I am telling you my experience as a child because it happens so rarely in Canada that schools close because of weather conditions during the warm weather months. In some regions of the country it is very rare for schools to close because of weather conditions at any time of the year. In contrast, some schools close quite frequently due to severe weather conditions during the coldest days of winter. Our experiences vary considerably across our vast country.