Local Press Releases

Schools should only be closed as a last resort

March 3, 2015

Waterloo Region Record

By Michael Harris

There has been much discussion and debate regarding the decision by the Waterloo Region District and the Waterloo Catholic District School Boards to cancel school Feb. 20 due to frigid temperatures.

Following that decision, I wrote to the chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board, Kathleen Woodcock, on behalf of parents who called me that Friday morning, asking for a review and amendment of the administrative procedure 4130, definition 2.1.1.

This is the procedure that leads to automatic closure of schools once buses are cancelled due to temperatures at or below -35 C. Before writing the chair, I investigated the status of schools in neighbouring school boards and found that while many did cancel school buses that day, our two Waterloo Region boards were the only ones to have taken the next step to close the school doors automatically.

In my Feb. 23 letter to Woodcock, I requested the procedure be reviewed and amended to ensure parents have the option to keep their children at home or safely get them to school.

I feel schools should be open for children to learn and only be closed as a last resort. Parents are ultimately responsible to decide if their children remain at home or can get safely get to school. Again, the current procedure closes the schools automatically.

To be clear, parents who I’ve spoken to have no issue with the school boards’ decision to cancel buses, or close schools in inclement weather. Given the current automatic closure procedure, however, I’ve heard from many who feel the potential for students to be greeted by locked doors and forced back home on a frigid day only exacerbates concerns for their safety.

For these reasons, I’ve asked Woodcock to consider the Algoma District School Board’s approach, which states: “The board will attempt to make every effort to keep schools open unless conditions are too severe.”

Further, I feel the Algoma board strikes the correct balance in indicating: “If transportation is cancelled, and schools remain open, you as a parent will need to decide whether you are able to transport your child to and from school that day. School staff will be available at the school to receive children. As always, you, as the parent, make the final decision as to whether or not conditions are safe for you to send your child to school.”

Simply put, I am asking the Waterloo Region boards to consider options — including possible delayed starts to mitigate inclement weather impacts as we saw in Stratford — to allow parents and their children the option of open schools on cold winter days, whether or not the buses are running.

While I understand that attendance may be reduced on cold days, this can be an opportunity for students to receive smaller group instruction or even some individual assistance in a subject area.

I appreciate the Waterloo Region District School Board’s openness in discussing this important issue and welcome the review following the Feb. 23 meeting of the board.

I’m hopeful that the impassioned discussion that has emerged will not only lead to positive change, but that it has also, as board superintendent Lila Read noted, highlighted the need to ensure children are dressed appropriately for school.


Michael Harris is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.