Peterborough and area public schools will remain closed on inclement weather days that see bus transportation cancelled to meet new COVID-19 directives, school board officials voted on Tuesday night.
Trustees with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board agreed on the decision during their regular meeting. They cited the inability of schools to “keep established student cohorts separate” on inclement weather days amid the coronavirus pandemic as the main concern.
The board noted that established practice within schools on inclement weather days is to consolidate attending students, to be supervised on an emergent basis, by the reduced number of staff on-site.
Trustees agreed the practice is now not possible within current provincial COVID-19 directives. As a result, administration will be closing schools on a system-wide or regional basis when student transportation is cancelled.
Schools will provide at-home learning to students in the event of school closure due to inclement weather. Virtual school programming on snow days will continue as normal.
“We appreciate very much this has been a challenging year for students, staff and parents, and one that continues to present unique or new issues to consider and resolve as we move forward,” stated board chairperson Diane Lloyd.
“The closures of schools is not something we consider lightly, but we believe at this time, factoring current student safety requirements, it is the necessary choice.”
An administration’s report reviewed a number of factors related to this issue:
- The need to maintain the independence of student cohorts as part of the board’s priority for student and staff health and safety. As part of this consideration, schools must have enough staff on-site during inclement weather to safely supervise attending students.
- Some of the board’s largest elementary schools have staff complements who reside out of the region and must drive a distance to be on-site.
- The current practice of keeping schools open in inclement weather is based on the assumption that enough staff are able to attend/drive to their worksite to manage consolidated groups of students. “Given the need to maintain distinct cohorts, that staff threshold is increased significantly,” a report states.
- Board policy only requires staff to attend their nearest school/worksite on inclement weather days, not necessarily their assigned school and where staff may possibly be most needed.
- Any decision in this area must be an equitable, system-wide approach where schools should not be penalized, nor advantaged, simply by where staff reside in proximity to the school.
“This is not a position that we arrived at without much consideration and thought,” said the board’s director of education, Jennifer Leclerc. “We know school closures are an inconvenience and hardship for parents and families. Ultimately, we need to always be able to operate our schools safely at all times, including being able to appropriately supervise everyone in our care.
“Without the ability to bring smaller groups together for the day, we are concerned we would be unable to meet that obligation and could potentially be putting student health at risk.”