School Closures Due to Inclement Weather
With the arrival of colder weather, we all know that winter is not far away. I would therefore like to provide parents and guardians with an overview of our transportation policies, with particular emphasis on how and why the difficult decision is sometimes made to close the College, or to reduce our level of bus service due to extreme weather conditions.
We had no snow day last year, past experience indicates that school closures due to wintry weather are all but inevitable. Altogether, we have had an average of two “snow days” over the last 8 years. This is not a high number of closures. Nonetheless, I fully appreciate how inconvenient and sometimes difficult an unplanned school closure can be for working parents. Please remember that the decision to close the College due to inclement weather is never made quickly or lightly. Moreover, it is always based on our assessment of what is best in order to safeguard the well-being of our students.
Our buses serve an extraordinarily wide catchment area, one that includes the many communities served by at least four Public Boards, namely Hamilton-Wentworth, Halton, Niagara, and Grand-Erie. Our situation here at HSC is therefore unique, and cannot be equated with other independent schools or the Public and Catholic Boards. Indeed, no other educational institution or organization manages such a large and complex transportation system. A fuller explanation of our situation and of the resultant policies and procedures is therefore warranted.
The most important issue faced on any given winter storm day is whether our buses can travel safely with our students, your children, on board. Our track record here at HSC has been exceptionally good, and in managing our transportation system we deliberately err on the side of safety. If the weather is severe enough to endanger your child’s well-being, we will opt to cancel classes for the day. No school day is worth more to us than the safety of our students. Similarly, if the College is open and deteriorating weather conditions are making travel dangerous during the day, we will cancel the late run and only run the early buses, or if necessary we will keep the children on Campus.
The vast majority of our students use the bus system on a daily basis. To accommodate parents and students we re-design the routes every year. Many routes are designed like the spoke of a wheel so that most buses originate in outlying areas, and then pick up students along the way as they travel into the Hamilton area with its highway and mountain accesses. Consequently, any plan to keep the school open, while closing only certain bus routes servicing areas affected by bad weather, is problematic. We must take into account travel conditions throughout the College’s entire catchment area.
How is the decision made?
In making a closure call, I rely on the College’s senior transportation staff and their recommendation. They are highly experienced and have access to various weather reporting systems, including the Ministry of Transportation, the Hamilton Airport, highway webcams, other bus providers, and the Weather Network. Our staff members scan and analyze all the material before 5:00 a.m. on days when we are expecting or experiencing a major storm. They then advise me of road conditions prior to 5:30 a.m. and recommend closure if road travel is deemed to be unsafe. Similarly, if we experience bad weather during the day, the decision to close early is made prior to 11:00 a.m.
Because they cover such a wide geographic area, many of our drivers are on the road by 5:45 a.m. I therefore must make the ultimate decision as to whether to close the College much earlier than other schools and Boards. There is always the possibility, therefore, that weather conditions may improve as the day unfolds. However, we have no option but to live with our original decision recognizing that, at least, we have erred on the side of student safety.
That said, for most storm days the College has been accurate in its assessment of weather conditions. Indeed, when the school has been closed due to severe winter weather, the members of our essential services staff have often been barely able to clear the parking lots and sidewalks in preparation for the next day. On one occasion seven or eight years ago we had black ice on the major highways, and covering the entrance and exit ramps all over our region. The black ice melted by mid-morning, but no parent would have wanted us to have compromised the safety of their children by having sent the buses out on the icy roads early that morning.
When do parents get notice?
When we make a call to close the school due to bad weather, we will put our cancellation notices on: CHML(900); Y108 (107.9); CKOC (1150);
K-Lite FM (102.9); WAVE (94.7); CHAM (820). We will also notify CHTV and CBC stations. In addition, we send out an e-communication to parents and post a banner on our website, as well as a notice in First Class -HSC News. We also set a tape recorded message at extension 302. If you have any question about whether the buses are running, please listen to these radio or TV stations, or check our website at www.hsc.on.ca. Phoning the school should only be the last resort if you have not been able to determine our status through the other methods.
When late buses are cancelled due to the deterioration of weather conditions over the course of the school day, we provide Middle and Senior School students with the opportunity to contact their parents, and after 11:00 a.m., we phone Montessori and Junior School parents if their children are in late-duty care, or if their bus stops will be altered due to the ‘No Late Run’ schedule.
We understand the inconvenience of a sudden closure to working parents, and never make the decision to close the school unless there are significant safety concerns. Many of our families offset this inconvenience by putting into place, in anticipation of wintry weather, their own snow day contingency plan, based on family or professional child-care support. Serious snow storms, like “acts of God,” can only be dealt with as an emergency response by the College. I believe that this school closure policy, based on an understanding of our unique transportation services, is still the very best way to ensure that your son or daughter is not stranded or injured en route to school.
Head of College