School bus cancellations: part science, part guesswork

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It’s an announcement that kids hope for and parents, in some cases, dread: snow day.

Although it might seem that there have been a high number of bus cancellations this school year—eight and counting so far for Muskoka—it’s not unusual.

But on a day like today when buses were running despite snow squalls, blowing snow and slippery road conditions, compared to yesterday when roads were in better condition and predictions for mid-afternoon freezing rain didn’t really materialize as expected, you might wonder how the decision to cancel buses is made.

It’s not a simple answer.

It begins with the weather forecast. If inclement weather is predicted, that sets into motion a variety of processes and conversations to evaluate whether or not buses will be cancelled, and if that decision will affect one or all of Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s three areas—Muskoka, Haliburton and Kawartha Lakes.

First thing in the morning, TLDSB’s superintendent of business and its transportation services supervisor are on alert, as is the communications officer, says Catherine Shedden, the board’s District Manager of Corporate Communications.

Very early in the morning—usually around 5:30 a.m.—they check the current and forecasted weather in each of the three areas. They connect with their bus operators who will have already had people out on the roads to check conditions. And they’ll watch what’s happening in surrounding school boards. Sometimes it’s an easy call—like when roads are icy and treacherous. Other days, it’s more of an educated guess. They don’t always get it right.

“As you can imagine, it’s not an easy decision to make because you are basing it on the information you have at hand,” says Shedden. “For instance, yesterday the weather wasn’t all that bad in the morning but the prediction was that there was going to be freezing drizzle, freezing ice pellets coming later in the day at about the time we would be picking children up from school, so that’s why the buses were cancelled yesterday.

“Early this morning it looked like the snow squalls were not going to be a big issue. And then the weather turned, but it was after buses were already on the road.”

Once the decision is made to cancel buses in any or all of TLDSB’s areas, they alert media, post an update to their website, spread the word on social media, and push out a notification via mybustoschool.ca. Shedden recommends that parents and guardians sign up for email notifications on the My Bus to School cancellations page. They aim to have the information out before 6:30 a.m.

Schools typically remain open when buses are cancelled. “We want to provide the opportunity to students to come and learn,” says Shedden.

But if the roads aren’t considered safe enough for buses, what about the teachers?

“We have an inclement weather process in place for teachers and school staff,” says Shedden. “They have to make their best attempt to get to their school, or they can get to the closest (TLDSB) building to their home, or they can speak to their supervisor based on the conditions and their particular circumstances. But the bottom line is everyone is making a best effort to get to their workplace.”

Shedden says they are monitoring the statistics, but so far there doesn’t appear to be an upward trend—although it varies from year to year, there are usually fewer than 10 snow days per school year.

“At this point we aren’t making any adjustments to school days,” she says, adding that teachers already account for students missing a certain number of days for a variety of reasons including illness, family holidays, sports and club activities, and bus cancellations. “Teachers ensure the curriculum is covered in the way it is supposed to. Our feeling is that it’s not going to significantly impact our students.”

See a video about TLDSB’s bus cancellation process below.

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3 Comments

  1. Interesting article! What surprises me is that each board seems to have differing policies when it comes to cancellations. The biggest difference is that some boards down south actually close schools when the buses don’t run during inclement weather. I’m curious why a geographically large board like TLDSB does not do this. This ensures both the safety of the students, teachers and administrators.

    • I’m surprised that schools remain open when busses are cancelled…but not because the teachers are then expected to drive. I live in NY, and the only employees who are excused from work (but still paid) due to snow and ice, are teachers. I worked as an RN for over 30 years, and not once was I told I could stay home because of dangerous road conditions. Even when a driving ban was announced, I was considered an essential employee, and the ban didn’t apply. My surprise is more that the students who are unable to get to school without bus transportation are then penalized by missing a full day of instruction others are getting.

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