New Brunswick

Mounting number of snow days prompts minister to seek solution

New Brunswick's education minister wants to launch a discussion over the number of snow days across the province during the school year.

N.B. students receive fewer than 700 hours of instruction each year compared to the national average of 900

New Brunswick's education minister says there needs to be more discussion around the number of snow days throughout the school year. (CBC News)

New Brunswick's education minister wants to launch a discussion over the number of snow days across the province during the school year.

"We can't afford to lose more hours and more days out of the system and climate change is clearly causing some impacts there," said Dominic Cardy.

The education minister has said he doesn't have a solution for the number of snow days that continue to pile up this year, but he's open to suggestions.

"I think we need to look at the situation, because it is clear [we] are losing a lot of instructional hours because of the storms," he said in an interview with Radio-Canada earlier this week.

And although students get to stay home from school, he said some parents still need to find someone to care for their children while they go to work.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy says there needs to be more discussion surrounding snow days in New Brunswick schools. (CBC)

"They [still] need to go to work, because the rest of the economy does not stop the days when schools [are closed]," Cardy told Radio-Canada.

Fewer than 700 hours of instruction

Winter storms and power outages are among the reasons New Brunswick students receive fewer than 700 hours of instruction each year. The Canadian average is about 900 hours.

"Clearly, it is not sustainable to have more than 200 hours of difference between schools in other provinces and here in New Brunswick," he said.

In the 2015-2016 school year, some New Brunswick students missed up to 15 days of school because of ice and snow storms.  

Cardy said he's also looking to speak with the New Brunswick Teachers' Association about the issue surrounding the number of snow days each year.

George Daley, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, wouldn't speak to CBC News about the issue surrounding snow days earlier this week.

Several schools were closed across the province Friday ahead of rain and freezing rain expected across the province, including all schools in the Anglophone West School District.

"The decision to close school is not taken lightly as we are attempting to balance the safety of our students with protecting instructional time. Both are extremely important," said Catherine Blaney, acting superintendent of the Anglophone West School District, in a statement.

"As part of our process, we review all available information before making a decision. As well, we reflect at the end of the day. If the weather forecast is not what we expected, we review the information used to make a decision and ask ourselves if there is a way to strengthen our process."

Blaney said the district will cooperate with the province regarding the department's review on storm days. The district also said it's willing to implement any changes recommended by the minister.

"We welcome a review to strengthen the process," Blaney. "Until then, we will continue with our current process for decision making."

What goes into a snow day?

So far this year, a combination of snow days and power outages have forced some schools in the Anglophone East School District to miss up to six days. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Every morning, district transportation staff check multiple weather forecasts, contact other school districts and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to gather information on road conditions.

Blaney said staff might also venture outside to check road conditions themselves before contacting the superintendent about making a final decision on cancelling school.

"When we cancel based on forecasts, we try to understand how the weather is going to impact the roads," said Daniel Wishart, transportation manager for the Anglophone West School District.

"Today … our worry was the frost in roads and some ice buildup on rural roads, they would become very slippery. We received reports this morning that some back roads are already like a skating rink."

Is technology the solution?

Gregg Ingersoll, superintendent for the Anglophone East School District, said technology could help students learn at home during a winter storm. (CBC)

Gregg Ingersoll, superintendent of the Anglophone East District, said the district takes the issue of snow days seriously.

"The more time you start missing over the semester ... the more you [teachers] have to reconsider what you're doing and make sure the kids are getting the essential learning for the course," he said.  

Ingersoll said learning online is an option for students and teachers, but he said it's also important everyone has access to the technology.

"Depending on the weather, if you don't have any power, that can be an issue too," he said. "Certainly that's more of a possibility today than it was in the past."

Monique Boudreau, general director of the Francophone South School District, said many teachers within the district also use technology to organize their course work.

She said teachers will also film videos, which students will watch at night, learn the concept and the teacher will teach more on that particular subject the next day. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Radio-Canada

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