This week’s cold temperatures forced the closure of almost 30 schools in rural central Alberta, while other classrooms had fewer students when school buses were cancelled.
All Wolf Creek Public Schools were closed Monday to Thursday. Chinook’s Edge School Division had to close its school in Cremona on Monday for the day due to a water main break, and frozen pipes at its school in Carstairs shut it down Tuesday.
Kurt Sacher, Chinook’s Edge School Division superintendent, said school closure practices for extreme temperatures are currently under review.
“We hit temperatures earlier in the week that we really haven’t seen in the last 1o years. Is there a temperature point when it’s not safe to operate?”
Chinook’s Edge had no school buses operating Monday and Tuesday because its buses do not run when the temperature reaches -35 or the wind chill sinks to -40.
“(Buses) could be out in a remote area where there’s no cell service. They do have radio, but even in some of our areas, there’s no radio contact. When it gets that cold, we just err on the side of caution for safety reasons,” Sacher said.
Children also don’t always wear proper winter clothing, he said.
“If the bus were to break down, it’s not like a car; they get cold fairly quickly. If you’re not dressed properly on top of it, the combination is of concern.”
He said about 50 per cent of Chinook’s Edge 11,000 students ride buses. When buses don’t run, some school populations could drop to 10 per cent, while others are 80 per cent full.
Students at home keep pace with studies electronically, he said. When the forecast calls for bad weather, teachers will remind students of work they can do at home.
“For those students that show up, students that are behind get some extra special attention. The ones that are ahead can have an enrichment day. It’s tricky, but (teachers) do their best to provide a service to students who are away and the ones in attendance,” Sacher said.
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools also cancelled school buses this week for communities outside Red Deer, but kept all its schools open.
Dave Khatib, associate superintendent of inclusive learning, said in his 30 years with Red Deer Catholic, schools were only closed once during a May ice storm due to the risk of ice accumulating on electrical wires.
“We do not close schools during cold weather. If for some reason students are able to make it to school, we want to be able to make sure they have a safe place to come in and learn,” Khatib said.
He said students are not penalized for missing school due to the weather. They are asked to check their teacher’s website for homework.
“We want to make sure they get caught up in the work that they miss, so we might hold extra study sessions for those students. We would definitely make sure there are no gaps in their learning,” Khatib said.
School buses with Clearview Public Schools were also not running this week.