Just Sayin' -- An Opinion Piece

By Kirk Winter

The most thankless job that exists at the Trillium Lakelands District School Board is the one responsible for cancelling the school buses due to inclement weather or unsafe road conditions.

Regardless of what decision you make, you are second guessed. If you don’t call the buses and one ends up in the ditch like it did not too many years ago, children might be hurt. In addition, the legal liability for the Board is likely catastrophic. If you do call the buses, some parents, somewhere in this massive geographic region the Board governs, look out the window and wonder why.

I have had parents question why there are so many days now that the buses don’t run. They harken back to their own experiences, and claim they can “never” recall their schools being closed even on the most awful of days.

I think I may have a few answers for those inquiring minds. I was at a City Council meeting before the holidays when the topic of road maintenance and its rising cost was being investigated. Senior staff stated that with climate change, on average CKL has gone from one or two major freeze and thaw incidents to six or seven in the last batch of winters. Very few bus cancellations anymore are because of just snow accumulation. The major culprits now are ice, water, freezing rain, and fog produced during the temperature fluctuations during these freeze and thaw events.

The old Victoria Board of Education tried many different kinds of bus cancellations in my time with the Board: partial cancellations, buses only running the main roads, or buses picking up after the roads had had a chance to be treated. These partial cancellations generally caused a world of confusion for all involved, with most students staying home regardless.

In the mid-1980s, the Board was loath to cancel buses under almost any circumstances until two incidents jolted them into a new reality. The winter of 1985 was a harsh one, and despite the prediction of a significant blizzard arriving mid-day, the buses ran. By 3:30 you could not see out the windows at Weldon, and the after-school buses could not run. Over 800 students were stranded at Weldon, with little chance of getting home. Staff was asked to take kids home with them, while the rest would be kept at school under administrative supervision. Some parents risked life and limb to come in and get their kids, while others vented their fury with Board Office decision makers.

A second incident a year or two later pushed the Board into a largely pro-active stance that it still follows today. The buses were rolled again into the teeth of a real storm, and once they arrived at the schools they were ordered to turn around and take the kids home. This was long before the advent of cell phones, and someone forgot about the possibility of children, particularly elementary aged kids, being returned to empty homes with no supervision and no house key.

A parent returned home at the normal bus drop off time to find their elementary aged daughter awaiting them, cold and scared. She had been smart enough to spend the hours between the emergency bus drop off and her parents arrival curled up in the dog house with the family Golden Retriever keeping her warm. Tragedy was averted, but just.

For the most part since then, calls have come early, erring on the side of caution. Since amalgamation with the Haliburton and Muskoka boards, the job of the transportation people has become even more complicated with having to make decisions for the three districts by 6am each morning.

With the weather the next couple of weeks looking iffy at best, expect more bus calls, and remember your child’s best interests are being put first when transportation decisions are being made.

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