The Halifax Regional School Board will take a new approach this winter as it tries to curb how often class is cancelled due to poor weather, a move that comes after students missed nearly 10 days of school last year due to snow days.
The plan is for schools to open two hours later than usual on mornings where a little more time is needed to make sure roads are safe, board spokesperson Doug Hadley told the CBC's Information Morning.
For example: If the school day starts at 8:50 a.m., the delayed opening would happen at 10:50 a.m., Hadley said, and the school would close at its usual time.
The two-hour rule would apply to early dismissals as well. Walking students would be dismissed at their regularly scheduled lunch hour, and bus pickups would happen two hours earlier than usual.
This will help avoid "chaos in the system," Hadley said, by ensuring the bus schedule is still staggered.
Typically, staff with the board start assessing weather and road conditions on storm days beginning at 4:30 a.m., and the superintendent makes the final decision to close schools between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m.
In the past, the decision was always made to close the schools for the full day — even on days when the weather and road conditions improved a few hours later.
"There are times when people — especially in the urban areas — look out their window and say, 'This doesn't make sense to me,'" Hadley said. "'My road is clear. What's going on here?'"
It was always an option to delay school arrival or dismissal times, but the policy was never implemented, Hadley said, because co-ordinating the effort was challenging, given the different arrival and dismissal times at the board's 134 schools.
There were more snow days for students in the Halifax Regional School Board last year than there were in the previous four years:
- 2015/2016 - 9½ snow days
- 2014/2015 - 5½ snow days
- 2013/2014 - 5 snow days
- 2012/2013 - 4 snow days
- 2011/2012 - 4 snow days
The spike in lost class time last year gave the board "a greater impetus" to look at the way things are done, Hadley said. "If we continue to do the same things all the time, the results aren't going to change," he added.
Hadley said the board may not end up implementing the new approach at all, but staff want to prepare parents now, just in case. "We know that if we just announced something on the day of, it would create a lot of confusion for people, because it would be new to them," he said.
The board has sent a document to each school explaining the changes, and is asking school staff to inform parents.
As a general rule, Hadley said, the board won't open schools "if we don't think it's safe."
That said, the two hour delayed opening might be a good option on days when there is a temporary power outage or freezing rain and "we know when the sun comes up a couple hours later, perhaps the roads are going to be fine."