(The following article originally appeared in The Coast, April 6, 2017.)
Cindy Littlefair is a member of the Halifax Regional School Board, and she wants to know what you think should be included in the principles for the School and Bus Cancellation policy. Let her know at email@example.com.
Snow dazed and confused
Should safety trump resilience when it come to cancelling school?
By Cindy Littlefair
I start muttering and twitching even before I’m out of bed. The cell phone on the other side of the room has “dinged” and because it’s 6am on a winter weekday, I know that a text has just arrived, saying “All schools in HRSB will be closed today.”
They’re words that strike fear and loathing and more than a little disbelief in an increasing number of parents in HRM. Panic: What are we going to do with the kids today? Anger: Why can’t we decide for ourselves whether to go to school? Incredulity: Is it really possible to miss this much school and still get a year’s worth of education? And a bonus question: What’s the take-away for kids when school is halted by weather?
That last point has turned cancellation-forecasting into a game with kids. Snow? Freezing rain? “There won’t be any school tomorrow, bet you $5.” Many believe kids have become conditioned, set-up for expecting a day off.
The public, through the HRSB governing board, has one tool in its kit for providing direction to the superintendent on the topic of weather-related cancellations. It’s called the School and Bus Cancellation Policy. The statement of principles, the bit written by the governing board, says this: “The superintendent or designate will cancel school when severe weather or poor road conditions are considered to be a threat to the safety or health of students and staff.”
The policy was last revised in 2011. An unprecedented number of the public took part via their schools. As a result the policy is highly representative of the opinions of the day. It expresses what we wanted. And what did we want? Safety. We wanted school cancelled when there was a threat to safety. Safety, it would appear, is what we valued most.
Few can argue with safety as a value. It’s something we want the superintendent to keep in mind. But recent responses to certain cancellations suggest there are other things we now want as well. Some people want to see resilience reflected. Or self-reliance. Or a can-do attitude. If so, how do we express them? At 5am on a winter morning, it’s the expression of our values and beliefs as expressed in principles that a superintendent reaches for in the form of their procedures.
We all think we could do it better. And we all seem to realize that there is no way to win universal agreement for the decision. Cancel the buses and open the schools? Critics say if it’s not safe to drive, it’s not safe to walk. Let school-based staff, teachers and others, decide whether they can make it to school? The current principles and collective agreements don’t allow that, safety again. Decide by family of schools? Again, the policy says “safety first” and the decision is always based on the best info at 5am. Delayed starts offer some hope and they’re being explored. In the meantime the current superintendent’s doing what he can with what they’ve got.
My 6am twitching and muttering erupts into a burst of righteous indignation, hyperbole and melodrama. “I know what the board should do,” I say to my empty bedroom, “it should follow the lead of industry and post its own version of the ‘Days lost to accidents’ tracker displayed at factory gates.” And what would it say at this point in the school year? “Four hundred thousand instruction days lost due to cancellation”—eight days times 50,000 students. Maybe we’re OK with that and maybe we’re not. Either way, it’s time to give it a think. Is safety the thing we value most? Or is there room in there for education?
March 28, 2017
Weather-related school cancellation decisions come from the Superintendent's office. If wishing to register your opinion on a decision you can speak with that office. If wishing to speak about the policy itself (see link below), please call or drop me a line.
For comments about a decision: Superintendent's office, 464-2000.
For comments about the policy: Cindy at 717-0040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have requested that the chair of the Policy Review and Development Committee add B.012, School and Bus Cancellation Policy to an upcoming agenda as an item for discussion. The policy was last reviewed and revised in 2011, informed in part by a 2009 report entitled School Storm Days in Nova Scotia commissioned by the Department of Education. HRSB produced a response to the report. As is frequently the case with policies it was sent to every school in HRM for consideration and feedback was received from almost every school. That feedback is reflected in the policy.
Please feel free to contact me with any thoughts or comments on the School and Bus Cancellation Policy.
NSTU announces a return to work-to-rule job action on Monday, January 31. See links below for full detail.
See here for news releases from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
See here for news releases from the Halifax Regional School Board and Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
On October 4 the NSTU rejected the tentative agreement with the Province. Minister Casey: "I was very disappointed to learn about the outcome of the vote this evening. The collective bargaining process has run its course. This is the second time we reached a tentative agreement with different bargaining teams from the NSTU that was rejected by the membership. We will not be returning to the table, we now await the union's decision."
In December 2013, the Province of Nova Scotia approved the construction of a new Primary to Grade 6 school on the south end of the Halifax Peninsula to replace LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary (LMST). See all of the updates on the temporary relocation of students and construction of the new school.
Ever wanted a simple way to get a sense of the school board's inner workings? The HRSB.ca site has a few entry points that are especially revealing.
The first is a cheerful and admittedly cheerleading-like telling of stories from all over the board. But justified! Entirely justified. Produced by the Superintendent it's a monthly report that draws on daily life in the classroom and beyond to illustrate different aspects of the strategic plan* in rubber-meets-road fashion. Snapshots. Profiles. Factoids! A great way of tying it all together! And there's a ton of embedded video. Here's the full collection.
And, second, would you like to see the source of what frequently forms the basis of a news story about the school board in the media? Go to the site and enter "focus on learning" in the search bar. What you'll find among the results are again spotlights on particular aspects of education and related issues. Offered in report form these drill down into top-of-mind topics: IPPs, student suspensions, assessment results, capital construction requests, and as you can see from that list they're also the source of a lot of the stories you end up seeing and hearing about in the news.
And finally, a brand new video that puts the new school review process in wonderfully plain English. Playfully animated, well-explained, take a look and become an instant expert on the new story of school review in HRSB! You'll be impressing friends and family with your expertise in no time.
* Strategic Plan Goals:
1: To improve student achievement and personal success.
2: To maximize exemplary teaching practices to support high quality instruction.
3: To achieve equitable learning opportunities for all students.
4: To build engagement, support and confidence in HRSB.