Snow problem: Is it time for B.C.'s northern capital to join Vancouver in declaring snow days?

Teachers in Prince George say it's time for the northern city to join districts elsewhere in the province in declaring snow days during extreme snowfalls.

Prince George teachers' association says it's not safe to keep schools open during heavy snowfall

Unlike other communities across Canada, School District 57 in Prince George never declares snow days. (The Associated Press)

Teachers in Prince George say it's time for the city to join districts elsewhere in the country that cancel public school classes during extreme snowfalls.

Earlier this month, the city was hit with more than 45 centimetres of snow in two days, prompting the city to operate ploughs around the clock in an attempt to keep drivers safe.

Still, Prince George District Teachers' Association president Joanne Hapke said the drive into work the morning of Feb. 9 was treacherous.

"The roads were pretty severe," she said. "I was in a four-by-four vehicle, so I was able to manage, but even in that I barely got out of my driveway."

Residents of Prince George had to dig themselves out of more than 40 centimetres of snow on Feb. 8, yet schools remained open. (Jeanne Hagreen)

She said she's heard from other teachers concerned that they were expected to show up at work despite the difficult conditions.

Unlike their counterparts in the Lower Mainland, Newfoundland and Ontario, Prince George's School District 57 never declares snow days.

This is out of concern for student safety, board chair Tim Bennett explained.

"The policy is so there is a safe and warm place for students who are travelling to school that day," he said. "They're not arriving at schools and not having a place to go because the building is closed."

He said staff are not expected to travel if they feel it is unsafe.

But, he acknowledged teachers may feel obligated to drive in during heavy snowfall and said he is open to reviewing the policy.

"It's been a long time since it's been looked at," he said.

RCMP urge drivers to stay home

RCMP in Prince George encourage residents to stay home during heavy snowfalls.

In advance of the snowfall warning earlier this month, police sent out advisories reminding drivers to slow down, turn on headlights and be aware of emergency vehicles.

The release also asked drivers to "reconsider the need to drive in poor winter conditions," adding, "If you don't need to drive, please avoid it."

Heavy snow made for dangerous driving in Prince George on Feb. 8. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Hapke pointed out much of the city's traffic comes from school district staff and parents dropping off their kids.

"We have 1,000 [teachers' association] members on our roads," she said. 

In 2014, a staff report to city council recommended implementing "heavy snow declarations" to alert the public to "say off the roads, if possible," but no such declarations have been made this year.

Campus conditions

Public schools aren't the only institutions in Prince George — which bills itself as "B.C.'s Northern Capital" — that buck provincial trends regarding snow days.

Heavy snowfall closed the Terrace, B.C., campus of Northwest Community College in January and, in February, the city's school district cancelled classes due to treacherous driving conditions. (Northwest Community College)

While post-secondary campuses in other parts of the province will close or reduce operations during heavy snowfalls, neither the University of Northern B.C. nor the College of New Caledonia tend to close their doors or cancel classes.

School policy to be reviewed

As for the school district, Hapke's concerns will be addressed at a policy meeting March 6.

She believes a middle ground can be found, such as cancelling classes but keeping schools open with a few staff members looking after any students who show up.

She also expects that if the district starts declaring snow days, their occurrences will be "very rare."

"I can think of three times in the last 20 years that schools should have been closed," she said. 

"We're not talking a lot of days."


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.