Letter to Families – Inclement weather and school closure decisions
February 25, 2022
Today, students and staff experienced the sixth snow day decision in two months called by Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), in consultation with Hamilton-Wentworth Student Transportation Services (HWSTS). At HWDSB, there is no school programming when buses are cancelled, according to the Inclement Weather and Board Cancellations Policy, which prioritizes student and staff safety.
This winter, we have experienced significant snowfall or freezing temperatures in short periods, which have made road conditions difficult and prompted the cancellation of transportation. This winter is not typical; some years we may have two school closures, or none at all. Today, however, when the decision to close was made at around 5:30 a.m., snow accumulation and heavy winds had dangerously reduced visibility on the roads.
HWDSB spans a large geographic area that includes several rural and remote communities. Today, Highway 6 in Flamborough, for example, was snow covered and challenging for transportation. Other parts of the city did not have roads cleared to allow for safe travel.
We recognize the challenges that families have experienced this year. We also acknowledge that the increased number of inclement weather days can disrupt family routines. It is difficult for families that work outside the home to find childcare, as well as for families already caring for younger children at home.
We wanted to share this message with families as questions arise whenever HWDSB decides to close schools due to inclement weather.
Decisions to cancel transportation and school operations are difficult and are never taken lightly. A team of staff from HWDSB, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) and school bus operators consider the decision to cancel transportation. The safety of our students, staff, and drivers is always considered a top priority during severe weather events.
How it works
When severe weather is expected, our student transportation consortium’s carriers check weather reports, road conditions and road clearing, starting as early as 4 a.m. Based on this information, the Director of Education makes the decision in conjunction with HWCDSB. HWDSB strives to announce the decision reflecting the road and weather conditions by 6 a.m. To communicate a cancellation, HWDSB uses its website, social media, traditional media, and direct sharing with families using our School Messenger’s phone, email and SMS service.
School boards have varied policies on cancellations. At HWDSB, inclement weather cancellations result in the cancellation of school and board operations. This policy was confirmed in the mid-2000s and has been reviewed many times by the Board of Trustees. During each review, Trustees have maintained their position on safety and well-being for students and staff. Any change in this policy would be made by the Board of Trustees with public consultation. The policy will be reviewed further in the fall 2022. HWDSB adheres to all Ministry of Education guidance related to inclement weather days.
When it comes to concerns related to lost instructional time due to inclement weather days, we appreciate that educators remain focused on curriculum expectations while modifying or condensing lessons to accommodate student learning. Monitoring student learning and meeting their needs is part of the daily practice in our classrooms. Although we have seen a higher number of closures this year, we do not plan to request a modified school-year calendar, which requires Ministry of Education approval.
Why not remote learning?
In December 2020, Trustees reviewed the Inclement Weather and Board Cancellations Policy as it related to remote learning and new guidance by the Ministry of Education during a global pandemic. During this review, Trustees determined that remote or asynchronous learning is not an expectation during school closures. Equity, and access of technology emerged as the main concerns.
Families can appreciate the work associated with device deployment on the part of school and system staff during transitions to remote learning. Not all students have a device or internet access. Also, some staff use school facilities for internet access to teach during remote learning.
Winter is not over yet. We may experience another severe weather event this year, which would surpass the record for the most school cancellations at HWDSB called in 2019. Families are reminded to prepare for contingency and safety plans. A day like today can provide learning and well-being opportunities for families and children.
Our preference and goal are to have children and youth learning in schools, but closures are possible during the winter months. We will always err on the side of caution and safety, mindful of those who face challenges on inclement weather days.
Dawn Danko, Chair of the Board
John Bryant , Interim Director of Education