When parents and kids wake up to news reports that the school buses aren’t running due to bad weather, they may have different reactions. Kids may be happy to miss school for a ‘snow day’; parents may have to put a contingency plan in place to make sure their kids will be looked after. Teachers and school officials have to put their plans into place as well.
“The decision to cancel the buses is not made easily or quickly, and we know that it will be inconvenient for many,” said Janet Murray, CAO and Acting General Manager for Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO): the group responsible for providing transportation to students enrolled in schools operated by the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO).
Murray said that she and others keep a constant eye on weather systems and will watch them closely for a few days to detect patterns, and possible problems. Consultations are held with a group of meteorologists who link with transportation providers, including school bus companies.
“We are dependent on these forecasters, and they are looking at weather that hasn’t even happened yet, so we can make our decisions carefully,” Murray said. “They know that we have to be mindful of all types of weather, including snow, rain, freezing rain, fog and high winds.”
The group at the STEO reaches out to 18 weather captains in the various zones served by the two school boards, and assessments are begun around 4 a.m. although consultations may be made earlier. There are many areas with the school boards’ zones that have to be assessed especially as the bus services cross municipal boundaries. Once assessments are done, connections are made by 4:30 a.m. and if the buses are to be cancelled, that information is posted by 6:15 a.m.
“We don’t want to precede the road crews, because we want to give them a chance to clear the roads, but we also know that in some cases, the rural areas may not be clear, while the urban areas are, so we have to be mindful of not only where the students are coming in to school, but where they are coming from,” Murray said. “The final decisions are made by our contacts at the school boards and then the work begins to inform the parents, after the bus contractor captains have been informed.”
Information is available on many platforms, including local radio and television stations, the STEO website, which has a weather ‘hotline’ for parents to call for pre-recorded messages. Information is also posted on the school boards’ websites and social media pages, including Twitter and Facebook.
The UCDSB Parent Involvement committee posted an article about bus transportation during inclement weather on its Facebook page in November.
When the buses aren’t running, Murray said that in most cases the schools will remain open to receive students, but it is the parents’ responsibility to pick up the children if they bring them to school. In emergency or extreme situations, when buses have to run earlier than the normal end-of-day times, parents will be notified. The decision to cancel buses or change bus times is never made easily, but regardless of how parents, students and school officials may react, it is necessary to make those cancellations.
“What people may not realize is that our buses cover close to 120,000 km every day travelling through the counties we serve, and while some roads are clear; others are not, and conditions can change very quickly, so things may look bad at 6 a.m. and be fine by 11 a.m.,” Murray said. “I’d rather offer my apologies for having to cancel buses than offer condolences because we didn’t and should have.”
Christine Peets is the Writer in Residence for the Upper Canada District School Board Parent Involvement Committee (UCDSB-PIC)