Cancelling buses but keeping schools open one of several scenarios school district considers in bad weather

Some families were left in the lurch last week when school buses were cancelled during snowy weather yet schools remained open.

On Feb. 28, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools announced school would be open, however buses were cancelled as it would be “difficult to maneuver large transport vehicles on certain roads in areas across the entire district,” the district said in its social media posts. The decision was made after staff toured school sites throughout the district between 2 and 6 a.m. and reported road conditions to the superintendent, which is the district’s standard practice during inclement weather, according to staff.

NLPS operates under four possible inclement weather scenarios, district staff explained during a 2018 episode of NLPS’s podcast “Ed Talks”: close schools, cancel bus runs but keep schools open, cancel special needs buses but run others and leave schools open, and keep schools open and buses running.

The Sounder asked school district staff what criteria is used to determine when schools should be closed versus when they should remain open but buses cancelled; however, details were not provided.

On NLPS’s Facebook page, parents expressed surprise schools were open, noting in certain areas of the district, such as Cedar and Ladysmith, side streets were impassable and sidewalks treacherous. “I just watched a plow get stuck on the same block as an elementary school from my window,” one Facebook user wrote.

In the 2018 podcast episode, staff acknowledge the expansive geography of the district mean weather and road conditions could vary greatly from the north to south of the district’s boundaries; however, NLPS only makes inclement weather school closure and bus cancellation decisions on a district-wide basis. The superintendent makes the call using recommendations from transportation staff as well as through conferring with the City of Nanaimo, Regional District of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island University on whether they will be operating road equipment. RDN transit was operating on Feb. 28 with just two routes running on short-lived detours due to the weather.

NLPS said school buses were cancelled last Tuesday due to safety concerns and that “passenger vehicles can maneuver roads much easier than larger vehicles like our buses.” The Sounder asked NLPS what the district’s response was to parents and guardians whose children missed lessons last Tuesday because they had no alternative transportation to school. “Students are often sick from school,” NLPS’s director of communications, Dale Burgos, responded. “Teachers work with those students on catching up on what they missed.”

Daily bus ridership averages just under 1,000 students, according to the district; however, there are 2,108 registered school bus riders.

“Our goal is to always have our schools open for students,” Burgos said. “We have heard from many families that depend on schools being open so they can go to work. We also have students who appreciate receiving breakfast or lunch at the school.”

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder