Education minister suggests schools stay open on some snow days
Dominic Cardy says schools could be open for students who can get there
Education Minister Dominic Cardy says keeping New Brunswick schools open on snow days may be the way to go as the number of snow days increases.
"I think it's something we have to look at it, and I know there are broader issues around it," Cardy said Wednesday.
He suggested that on some days when it's not safe for school buses, schools could still open for students who can get there, he said.
Changing how school districts respond to storms would not require a change in the collective agreement with teachers.
George Daley, the New Brunswick Teachers' Association president, argues there are more important issues in education to discuss than snow days.
"We recognize there is a loss of classroom hours when there's a snow day but we also recognize we've been dealing with this for a long time."
Daley said changes are made to "the delivery of curriculum and individual student work time" in the classrooms to make sure all the material is covered.
While the number of snow days across the province varies among the districts, Cardy said it has averaged about 10 days a year in recent years, which is a concern.
"One of the problems we've got with — I think climate change is playing a role in this — is we're getting more and more unstable weather, weather around the freezing mark, where you get freezing rain."
Cardy said no one disputes closing schools during severe storms, when daycares and the majority of businesses are closed as well.
"Obviously, the first priority for every single person involved in education is to make sure kids are safe."
Teachers under pressure
Cardy said teachers are already under pressure to get everything done during the school year, and making up for time lost to snow days adds to it.
"It puts the teachers in a difficult position, it puts the children in a difficult position and it also has a broader impact on families."
He said many parents have to take their children to daycares or to the homes of friends or family on a snow day. If parents stay home to look after their kids on a snow day, they might lose a day's pay.
For low-income earners paying extra for child care or losing a day's pay can be tough, Cardy said.
"I know it's a little bit of a class issue here, absolutely, but again we have to make sure we are looking at safety but we've got to look at those broader impacts as well."
The teachers association has argued that if roads aren't safe for school buses, they aren't safe for teachers, but Cardy pointed to snow days when other adults do get to their jobs and businesses stay open.
About 77,000 students, or 79 per cent of the school population, are eligible to take a school bus, the Department of Education says.
"It comes down to a conversation of individual safety if we were to keep schools open and not have buses running," Daley said. "The bottom line is we don't want to see anyone hurt."
He said he understands some students are on the road on a snow day because alternate arrangements have to be made for child care, but he said a lot aren't on the roads.
"Will we put more students on the road if we keep those schools open on days it's not safe for buses to be on the roads?" he asked. "It's a pretty big statement to say it's not safe for a large yellow bus to be on the road, but we are comfortable putting people into smaller vehicles and putting them on the road."
Daley said the NBTA would like to see the focus shift to students's overall attendance at school and not just on snow days, something he was happy to hear Cardy mention in an interview with CBC's Maritime Noon.
"If we're going to get into a conversation about the hours that are lost and its effect on the system, the whole attendance conversation has a much, much larger impact than snow days do."
The problem of students missing school, some as many as 60 to 80 days, has to be addressed, he said.
"Teachers have noted a considerable difference in the necessity of being in the building."
Daley said it falls on the teacher to get a student caught up after they miss time for family trips and other reasons. Some are asked to prepare assignment in advance.
"If you have two or three students absent on any given day, the first thing the teacher has to do is get them caught back up and make adjustments for them not being there."
With files from Maritime Noon