Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘School Snow Days’ Category

The largest school board in Atlantic Canada, the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB), may be the first in the nation to defend cancelling classes on Monday February 8, 2016 to prepare for a “pending blizzard” that eventually produced a routine snowstorm after school hours. Hours later they announced a second day full system shutdown, provoking howls of protest from vocal critics and citizens claiming boards are too quick to call snow days that inconvenience parents and cost teaching time.

NSStormChips“They have closed all schools due to a ‘pending’ storm. Not one flake of snow has dropped out of the sky,” one woman wrote on Facebook.  But HRSB spokesman Doug Hadley said officials had information that the snow could start by 11 a.m. “It wasn’t the question of getting everyone to school, it was a question of getting everyone home safely,” Hadley wrote in an email. That decision not only impacted 137 schools, 4,000 teachers, and almost 40,000 students, but precipitated a rash of early business closures virtually idling the region’s leading business and government centre.

Closing schools system-wide is a rarity in many areas of the country. My AIMS report, Schools Out, Again, produced in April 2010, raised the first alarm bells. Comparing Maritime school closure records with those in six different jurisdictions, including Winnipeg, Calgary, York Region, Durham Region, and the Quebec Eastern Townships, the pattern was abundantly clear — most school districts outside the region close school only 2-3 times a year  or never, not for an average of 8 to 12 days a year, as in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and Newfoundland/Labrador.

A survey of Nova Scotia’s highway cameras on February 8, 2016 at  3 pm showed no snow cover on 47 or the 51 highway locations monitored by highway cams.  Yet the Halifax, Annapolis, South Shore, and Tri-County regional school boards closed all schools, all day. The Acadian School Board cancelled its mainland schools. Université Sainte-Anne, Acadia, Dalhousie, Mount St. Vincent, NSCAD, and Saint Mary’s Universities all shut down.

Astute political observer Parker Donham, curator of The Contrarianfelt compelled to declare that “Nova Scotia schools no longer have zero tolerance of snow. They have zero tolerance of the possibility of future snow.” He also tallied up the financial cost to the province of this one day of weather paranoia:

  • Upwards of 100,000 school children lost a day in school unnecessarily.
  • Thousands of teachers and school board staff got a paid day off. [HRSB staff worked a half day.]
  • Roughly 68,000 households had to scramble to make last minute child care arrangements (based on an estimated 1.5 students per family).
  • Some of those parents lost a day of work.
  • Thousands of employers endured absenteeism and paid work time diverted to managing the school boards’ indifference to community needs, provincial employees were sent home at 1 pm.

Defenders of full system Snow Day school closures maintain that school boards should always “err on the side of safety” and trot out the standard claim that students are safer “off -the-roads.” Many of the apologists also claim that riding school buses is somehow more dangerous than riding in personal vehicles, driving ATVs, and sliding down snow-covered hills. That argument deserves further investigation.

SchoolBusNoMoreSnowDaysSchool buses continue to be one of the safest methods of travel for children and youth. Only 0.3 percent of all collisions resulting in personal injury or death involved school buses. Yet, over a 10 year span (1995-2004), children traveled by bus as many as 6 billion times, an estimated 600 million pupil-trips per year and 3,400,000 pupil-trips each day. Over the 10-year period, only 142 people died in collisions involving school buses; and just five of these fatalities were bus passengers.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation compares the likelihood of accidents using various modes of transportation. Compared to occupants of school vehicles, occupants of cars and trucks are: 42 times more likely to be in a fatal collision; 45 times more likely to be in an injury collision; and 25.7 times more likely to be in a collision of any kind. A United States study in the American Journal of Public Health (2005)looked at crash counts during snowy weather versus dry weather conditions and found that snow covered roads generally produce less severe crashes and fewer fatalities.

Some school boards, most notably the Calgary Board of Education, insist that school children are far safer on school buses and in schools during most snowstorms. It’s also fair to say that most school districts outside Atlantic Canada shut their systems down only as a last resort in the most severe, hazardous conditions. Cancelling classes so families can prepare for snow storms is truly unique to Canada’s Atlantic provinces and undoubtedly contributes to the region’s well-known productivity challenges.

Why are Maritime school boards so quick to cancel classes in advance of snow storms?  Where’s the research evidence to support the claim that kids are safer in personal vehicles or playing unattended  outside than travelling by bus to teacher-supervised schools?  Is it time to assess the safety risks of cancelling schools with such frequency? 

 

Read Full Post »

Closing schools at the first sign of a coming snowstorm is a 20th century tradition that may soon come to an end.  So is turning on the morning radio or TV bright and early in eager anticipation of the predictable announcement. The local Storm Centre list makes it official: “School’s out again.”

SnowDaySceneNow comes news from the American “snow belt” states that the storm day itself may be threatened by, of all things, the gradual advance of 21st century e-learning. Already, U.S. school districts from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Westerville City, Ohio, to Trimble County, Ky. are beginning to take full advantage of the Internet to convert snow days into cyber-learning days.

While many Canadian and American  school boards continue to declare snow days, idling millions of students and thousands of teachers, a viable alternative to cancelling school days is slowly emerging in the United States. Since August of 2011, the State of Ohio has authorized school districts to develop “e-day plans” for storm days, implementing them once five days have been lost in the school year. It’s a very ingenious response to the significant loss of student learning time.

School snow days are back with a vengeance in the current school year. So far in 2013-14, students in Nova Scotia, Canada’s largest Maritime province,  have already lost from three to 12.5 full school days, depending upon the school board, mostly as a result of storm cancellations. Two of the regional boards, Chignecto-Central (CCRSB) and Annapolis Valley (AVRSB), are on pace to break the previous record of 14 lost days, set during the 2008-09 school year.

Five years ago, the high incidence of school cancellations sparked a provincewide debate. Jim Gunn’s storm days report (December 2009) documented the extent of the problem and recommended a number of operational changes to minimize the impact upon the system. My own April 2010 policy report for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) compared school days lost in boards across Canada and contended that the number of days lost in 2008-09 hurt student performance, particularly on the June 2009 Grade 12 mathematics exams.

A few minor policy adjustments have been implemented since then. Schools in the Halifax regional board are, as a result of David Cameron’s 2011 board motion, now closed more often by families of schools, conserving time lost in walkable city school zones. The CCRSB has also attempted to be more flexible, not always closing across the board. In the South Shore school board, a “back roads closure plan” has been implemented, keeping school buses operating on snowy days and allowing more schools to stay open.

School days are still being written off by system administrators and school principals and the Education Department continues to take a laissez-faire approach. Working parents and concerned community members who raise any objections are treated as “kill-joys” or chastised for their lack of concern for child safety on hazardous roads. Why worry? some say. Enjoy the family time and be happy.

Why are the three Maritime provinces so out of sync with other Canadian school systems and most American states? School boards in Calgary, Winnipeg, south central Ontario and the Quebec Eastern Townships all experience brutal storms and heavy snow, but rarely, if ever, close their schools. School officials in Calgary, Winnipeg, and York Region maintain that students are safer in school and in buses rather than cars.

What changed the dynamic in the American snow belt states? Political and business leadership was critical. State governors and school commissioners, at the urging of business employers, responded to public concerns when school was cancelled repeatedly, disrupting working families and affecting productivity levels in the plant or business office.

How did it happen? Concerned parents pressed state governors and legislators to take action to stop the erosion of instructional time. School districts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wheeling, West Virginia, and rural Kentucky sought to eliminate the lost days entirely by introducing make-up school days in place of professional development days or at the end of the term.

The best solution came out of Ohio. After five days lost, school districts were authorized to institute either “e-lesson days” or to provide make-up days to guarantee a minimum number of instructional days each year. Faced with those options, some 86 Ohio schools have now registered to offer e-days during school storm closures. On those days, teachers go online at 10 a.m. and provide lessons online until 5 p.m., providing a full day of online learning.

E-days do work best in digital-learning, networked lap-top schools, but surprising numbers of schools rely solely on school-to-home computer connections. Since most of today’s homes have networked home computers or mobile devices, more students report in than on some regular school days.

Turning disposable storm days into e-learning days is clearly the wave of the present as well as the future. It’s time to get serious about moving forward with 21st century learning and to tackle the problem of throw-away school days.

What’s standing in the way of implementing E-Learning Days in schools?  The Internet is no longer a novelty and the 21st century began almost 15 years ago. Go ahead and give us your rationalizations.

Read Full Post »