Hansen: Safety is WCPS top concern when choosing to close schools due to severe winter weather

Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) Board Chair Pamela Hansen. Supplied

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We know winter in Alberta sometimes means our schools will be dealing with lots of snow and very cold temperatures.

As the Wolf Creek Public School Division (WCPS) Board of Trustees, we want to ensure all those WCPS school families and all those who ride a WCPS bus to school that safety of students is our primary concern, especially on winter days with severe weather. WCPS uses Administrative Procedure (AP) 132: Closure of Schools Due to Inclement Weather to guide decisions about school closures and bus cancellations due to extreme weather, and we know school closure can pose an inconvenience for some families.

Let me share some information on how these decisions are made.

If conditions are dangerous to the degree WCPS won’t run its buses, we also believe that conditions are not safe for students to travel to school. Those conditions are determined through a few ways, and are outlined in AP 132: Closure of Schools Due to Inclement Weather. But most notably, buses are cancelled when the ambient air temperature is -40 degrees Celsius, or with dangerous road conditions and/or poor visibility. When all buses are cancelled, schools are closed.

Closure and cancellations are considered when the air temperature is between -30 degrees and -40 degrees with wind chills over -40 degrees. Our transportation manager and superintendent evaluate many factors, which includes the official Environment Canada conditions and forecast, along with a network of contacts across the division. This evaluation begins as early as 4 a.m. on days when inclement weather is forecast.

In cases such as fog, or freezing rain, where conditions are expected to improve, buses may be cancelled in the morning, but schools remain open. Buses would then take students home at the end of the school day.

As mentioned, from time-to-time concerns are raised from families over cancelling of school, and we understand those concerns. WCPS plans for more hours than the required instructional hours (950 in grades 1-9, and 1,000 in grades 10-12) in order to buffer in the event of school closures. The Division has used AP 132 for decades and is consistent in administering it. WCPS schools have only been closed an average of 2.5 days per year over the last eight years due to inclement weather.

There are many ways to learn more about this procedure, and stay updated through the winter months. First the Division sends direct communication to parents in the event of inclement weather. The information is also posted on the division website — wolfcreek.ab.ca — and on the Wolf Creek Public School Facebook and Twitter pages (which I encourage parents to follow). The full AP 132 and specific information on its use is also available on our division website. It can be found in the menu under School Division, and under the Transportation subhead.

We value your input and would invite any feedback throughout the school year, as we work as partners for the safety of students and a successful school year.

Pamela Hansen is Board Chair of Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS). WCPS Board of Trustees consists of six trustees representing the communities and rural areas of Alix, Bentley, Blackfalds, Bluffton, Clive, Eckville, Lacombe, Ponoka, and Rimbey. Serving approximately 7,300 students, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, WCPS employs approximately 412 teachers and 350 support staff in 30 schools, including five colony schools, throughout the division.

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