By Jessica Faught
(WINDSOR, ON) – Windsor-Essex Medical Officer of Health, Dr G Allen Heimann, is warning that all residents of Windsor should stay indoors during this cold snap. Heimann cautions that it only takes five minutes for exposed skin to freeze in temperatures our weather officials are reporting as the coldest day Windsor has seen in twenty years. They are comparing our current weather -40 C temps to prairie conditions.
Dr Heimann added that even if the buses were running on schedule he certainly would not advise anyone to be outdoors waiting for a bus in these temperatures and neither should any student be walking to school under these conditions.
With this advisory, why have our local school boards decided to keep the schools open on a day such as yesterday?
Both the Catholic and Public school boards have policies that relate to cases of inclement weather. The WECDSB policy can be read here, and the GECDSB policy here. Clearly the policies each state that when weather poses a risk to health and safety the schools are to close.
Michelle Marcuz, the assistant to Director Erin Kelly of the Greater Essex County District School Board, indicated that the board has an obligation to students who are sent to school by their parents.
“I don’t know why the decision was made to stay open,” she said. “But keep in mind that we have to be open for the students whose parents chose to send them as we don’t want them being dropped off at a closed school.”
Another board representative who didn’t want to be identified, echoed Marcuz’s comments.
“It is in a teacher’s policy that if the principal is at the school then the teachers must report for work also,” they said. “Out of caring, the schools remained open for the parents who still decide to send their children despite the inclement weather advisory. We have to think about those students as well as their health and safety in the event that they should have to walk back home in the cold to a possible empty house without supervision.”
Essentially, schools act as a safe house for parents who ignore the weather advisory. However, in terms of absenteeism, inclement weather days are considered to be “grant days” according to Marcuz, and are not counted against students who remain home during an advisory.
After reviewing the weather policies, items 4.1 and 4.3 of the WECDSB document and items 1 and 3 from the GECDSB are almost identical and seem to contradict each other as to who, exactly, has the final authority to close a school. When asked to discuss, Marcuz responded that it is solely the responsibility of the Director of Education to make the decision whether the schools will close or not.
“Every five years all policies and regulations are reviewed ,” she added, while agreeing that the items were, in fact, contradictory.
Additionally, Marcuz downplayed the role of the Greater Essex County District Parent Involvement Committee with regards to inclement weather. She said that it wasn’t within the jurisdiction of the GECPIC to communicate information for inclement weather days.
Parents who send their children to school during a weather advisory contending with conflicting communications.
“We don’t have a position,” said Tina Gatt of the Children’s Aid Society. “However, generally speaking, the onus is on always on the parent when it comes down to health and safety. It doesn’t help when the community is sending mixed signals such as the buses aren’t running yet the schools are open.”
“The CAS is interested in the proper supervision of children should parents still have to work and leave their children home,” Gatt said. “As well, proper weather apparel, however with weather advisories as strong as they are right now, any clothing might not be sufficient in these temperatures.”
In your opinion should the Directors of Education close all schools when advisories suggest that everyone stay indoors due to inclement weather?