With an extreme cold warning in place, buses transporting students in School District 27 (SD27) have barely skipped a beat this week.
Overnight temperatures of -30C in Williams Lake, and even colder out west, have been blanketing the region since Monday, Feb. 8, but an updated transportation policy has buses running, catching some parents off guard.
The policy was updated in recent months and the -32C temperature when buses would stop operating was removed.
In response to calls from concerned parents, SD27 posted a letter from Norine Durban, secretary-treasurer, on its website Feb. 9 explaining the changes, noting the -32C cutoff for buses running was ‘deemed arbitrary and outdated.’
The updated policy puts the onus on parents to decide whether it’s safe to send their children to school.
“Parents must exercise discretion as to whether students should be sent to school when temperatures are low, and conditions are hazardous. Responsibility for such decisions cannot rest with the supervisor, the bus driver or the Board,” states the updated cold weather procedures.
“Cancellation of school buses will be determined by the manager of facilities and transportation after notifying the superintendent and the cancellation will be posted on the school district website www.sd27.bc.ca as well, school principals/vice-principals and district senior staff will be notified by email of all cancellations or issues.”
The policy change was discussed along with several other policy updates at a school board meeting in the fall and circulated for feedback through the district’s email and social media from Nov. 25 to Dec. 25, noted Durban’s letter. No feedback was received at that time, added Durban, who also told the Tribune the policy update simply gives the district more discretion around busing decisions.
Rural parent Shay Dyer said putting the onus on parents to determine whether it’s safe to send their children to school or not is very disappointing.
Hauling around all the winter gear needed to safely travel in extreme cold temperatures, coupled with the fact students don’t have lockers at the school this year due to COVID-19 makes the updated policy unrealistic, said Dyer. As well, she said missing a three-hour class for high school students is simply not an option for most.
Durban added the district has cancelled buses previously this year due to icy road conditions, and will continue to review conditions daily and determine whether it is safe to transport students.
The Tribune has reached out to the school board chair for further comment.