New school winter weather policy puts responsibility on parents

It will be up to parents to decide if they want to keep their children home when the weather gets cold and roads get bad this winter.

On Tuesday, the School District 57 board of trustees approved, in principle, changes to the district's winter weather policy. The new policy will be put in effect while the district conducts 60 days of consultation with stakeholder groups.

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"Because our policy is schools will not be closed, we're leaving it up to parents to decide if they want to keep their child home," trustee Betty Bekkering said.

Schools will remain open regardless of the weather, and school bus service will continue to run, said Bekkering, who is chairs the district's policy and governance committee. Individual bus routes may be cancelled because of dangerous road conditions.

The district will announce any route cancellations on local radio, the My School Bus Monitor system and school district website as quickly as possible. Under the new policy, if a school bus doesn't arrive with 15 minutes of its scheduled pick-up time, students aren't expected to wait and can return home or to another safe place to stay, Bekkering said.

"This one minor statement adds a whole lot of clarity for students," she said. "That gives parents a clear idea of the safety of their child."

The new policy also provides parents with clarity about what will happen if school attendance is low because of poor weather, she said.

"On days when student attendance is reduced substantially because of cold or inclement weather conditions or because travel is considered treacherous, regular scheduled instruction may be modified for those students who attend school," the new policy says. "In advance of the cold weather months, schools should consult with parents and clearly communicate to parents what educational alternatives the school will offer in the event of low attendance caused by excessively cold weather."

The policy also provides clarity around "in days" – days when students are kept inside during lunch and recess breaks.

"Temperature alone does not warrant an 'in day' although the guideline that has been used for quite some time has been -20 C," the policy says. "Taking into consideration the many factors of inclement weather such as wind, rain, particulate matter, snow and temperature, the principal shall make the decision as to keeping the students indoors."

All school staff will be expected to attend work as scheduled, and those who can't must contact their principal or supervisor for further instructions, under the new policy.

Previously, the district's policy stated that staff were expected to "make every reasonable effort to travel to work, but should not place themselves at undue risk in attempting to do so."

The policy change was originally proposed as a minor change to the policy, not requiring consultation from stakeholder groups. Trustee Sharel Warrington proposed an amendment, which was approved, calling for the district to complete the 60 days of consultation.

"I see this as a major revision, personally," she said. "It's not because this is a controversial policy, and it is."

Trustee Ron Polillo said he believes the changes are "a clear, concise and common-sense approach" to managing the extreme weather the region can get.

"I can live with this. It's addressing my concerns with the winter weather coming fast – maybe faster than we anticipate," Polillo said. "But it also gives a chance to get input from stakeholder and right holders."

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