While snow days of the past may have included kids flocking to local parks, building a snowman in their yards or enjoying some hot cocoa, this year’s snow days will look different for students due to the advances in learning technologies that COVID has brought.
In a letter sent to parents and guardians of students within the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) this week, parents were told when buses are cancelled this year due to inclement weather, their schools will still be open for student learning.
The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board will be taking a different approach, discussing it at their Wednesday night board meeting and sending a letter to parents about the change on Thursday.
“It is always a family decision whether or not it is safe for your child(ren) to leave for school under severe weather conditions,” reads the letter to public board families. “This year, please note that students who are unable to attend school due to bus cancellations will be able to access learning materials on the digital learning platform assigned by their teacher, either Desire2Learn (D2L) or Google Classroom.”
Douglas Paul, superintendent of education with the SCDSB, said the board "wanted to provide students and families with an opportunity to continue their learning, especially in our secondary schools with the quadmester system."
With the quadmester system condensing material normally taught over months into shorter periods of time, the loss of one or two days of learning would have a bigger impact than under the previous semester model, officials say.
“We need to make sure we’re still providing enough time for students to complete the curriculum requirements and make sure if we have several bus cancellation days, we still allow opportunities,” said Paul.
“As we have for a long time now, when buses are cancelled schools remain open as they have in previous years. This year, the change is, if students are unable to attend, they’ll be able to access the learning materials on the teacher’s digital learning platform,” he said.
Other school boards across Ontario have taken a different tact, including the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, opting to close schools to students in the event of inclement weather citing concerns smaller cohorts who attend school on those days would mix. Staff processes at the Catholic board for inclement weather will not change from previous years.
Director of Education Francis Bagley presented the decision to trustees on Wednesday night. If bus transportation is cancelled in a particular zone, student learning will continue asynchronously for both elementary and secondary students in that zone.
“I reached out to nine other school boards, and six of the nine are providing asynchronous learning on inclement weather days,” she told trustees.
During Wednesday night’s meeting, Bradford-Innisfil trustee Jeanny Salmon asked if attendance would be taken virtually on those days.
“Because it’s an asynchronous learning day and no students would be present in the school, attendance would not be taken on that day,” said Bagley. “Other school boards are questioning that practice so I can bring it up at our next meeting.”
Bagley said the board will be asking for feedback from parents after the first inclement weather day of the season.
Trustee Carol Corriveau-Truchon, who represents the Muskoka area, notes her zone is one that experiences a number of snow days annually, and wondered how parents would cope with having to find child care at the last minute.
“I think this might create a hardship for parents,” she said.
Bagley said that issue was one she discussed with all nine school boards before coming to the decision.
“Safety trumped all. Public health has said they do not advise at this time to collapse cohorts,” she said. “If there are hardships parents experience and they communicate that to us, we will certainly take those into consideration.”
Paul provided clarity on why the SCDSB chose not to take the approach to close schools in the event of inclement weather.
“We have many schools with a high number of walkers, and we wanted to minimize potential impact on families,” said Paul. “We consulted with the health unit and took guidance from them.”
Bus cancellations for both school boards are communicated daily through the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium here.