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School closures, bus cancellations based on many factors

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Grade 12 students in two rural Manitoba divisions got a short-lived reprieve from writing a provincial English exam when their schools were closed on Jan. 11.


Prairie Rose School Division superintendent Bruce Wood said this was the first time a division-wide closure happened this winter. The situation was the same in the Red River Valley School Division, according to superintendent Pauline Lafond-Bouchard.


Wood added that the Grade 12s completed the exam on the following Monday.


With almost 80% of students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in Prairie Rose and 70% of students in Red River Valley being bussed to school, judging the weather and road conditions to decide whether or not to close schools, and stop buses from running, must be done very early in the morning.


Wood explained that the division’s transportation supervisor checks weather conditions, including current and future temperatures and wind chill values.


Information on the division’s website states, "We use websites and Environment Canada weather stations to observe temperature (in excess of -35) and wind chill (in excess of -45) in effect at 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. We also consider whether there is a Wind Chill Warning in effect at 6:00 a.m."


Road conditions such as snow, ice and fog are also considered along with whether or not snow is forecast to continue throughout the day. Provincial highway closures can also affect rural bus routes.


"Because of the size of our division, we have a number of bus drivers in various areas," said Wood. The transportation supervisor will call these drivers to check on conditions in their individual areas.


Wood and Lafond-Bouchard said supervisors often leave their homes in the wee hours to drive around and personally check weather and road conditions. Finally, they will call their counterparts in surrounding school divisions to discuss a possible divisional closure.


Once a closure decision is made, staff must communicate this to students, parents and teachers. Prairie Rose and Red River Valley School Divisions use their websites, radio and TV stations to pass the word along. Bus drivers might phone parents of students along their routes.


"The parents know where to find this information," said Lafond-Bouchard.


Even if buses aren’t running, schools can still be open for students who aren’t bussed and teachers are expected to get there.


Wood said the January to March spring break period tends to be the most variable for weather conditions, but so far this school year, there was only the one divisional closure. Last year’s milder and drier winter resulted in no closures.


If weather conditions deteriorate rapidly throughout the school day, divisional staff have until 2:15 p.m. to make the call cancelling afternoon bus operation. Each school will then notify parents whose children take the bus and will arrange for billets if necessary.


Lafond-Bouchard explained that parents must identify someone who lives in the community where their children’s school is located and give them permission to pick up their children from school and keep them at their homes. While the need to call on billets is only done in severe weather, she said, it does happen occasionally.

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