School Bus Cancellations: Should You Bring Your Kids To School?

Al Donato
In areas where snow is common, school cancellations due to snow are uncommon.

In the aftermath of a massive blizzard, the shovels come out. As does the rock salt. But should the kids?

Sadly, a snowstorm doesn't guarantee the coveted snow day anymore. (Sorry, you can't summon it. Unless you're Bart Simpson, praying won't work either.) Schools are more likely to issue bus cancellations, a practice that has long polarized and confused parents.

Bus cancellations are an indicator of road safety along specific routes. Unless severe weather impacts teaching conditions inside schools, many choose to stay open.

Parents might be tempted to vent at school boards that remain open in spite of extreme weather. But the act is often done to benefit parents who would otherwise be left scrambling for childcare, as the Toronto District School Board's school closure policy states. And for schools where the majority of students walk or are driven there, a lack of buses wouldn't have affected their commute, anyway.

While some parents might be unhappy when school boards decide to keep schools open, the decision accounts for the burden of childcare some might not be able to afford.

On bus cancellation days, the polar vortex issues a polarizing challenge for parents: keep the kids in or take them to class?

If you can handle the drive, why not?

Mother of four and parenting expert Kathy Buckworth has long enforced a fairly unpopular policy among her brood. Where she's from, extreme cold usually wasn't a good enough excuse for being absent.

"I grew up in Winnipeg," she told HuffPost Canada. "So I would drive my kids to school on a bus cancellation day."

For parents like Simone Reali, an office administrator from Markham, Ont., taking the day off comes down to finances.

"I need to ensure that I save up enough vacation days to use if and when they are sick," she said.

However, that decision isn't one all parents can make easily. There are parents who don't have access to transportation other than the bus system.

Buckworth encourages parents with cars to run through an internal checklist before buckling any seat belts: how safe the weather is, what kind of car they drive, how far they need to go, and how comfortable they feel driving are all factors that take precedence over any class time. Not to mention, how long it will take to get the car out of the driveway.

Depending on how much snow your car is under, you might want to re-think the drive to school.

If a parent can't drive or can only arrange pick-up or drop-off, she suggests coordinating with neighbours for carpooling.

Personal reasons to institute an independent snow day are just as valid. If childcare isn't an issue and a parent feels a day off wouldn't hurt, that's up to their discretion.

Donna Green, an actress and mother of three, has a simple philosophy: "If the bus kids don't have to go, you don't have to go," she tells her kids.

For Green, a bus cancellation day is devoted to chilling out. "We don't do much, just stay in. The kids play their games, watch tv or play together," she told HuffPost Canada over Twitter. "I try to clean and feed everyone."

It's not just a day of watching movies

Angie Inglis is an intermediate French teacher in Durham, Ont. When the temperature plummets, so does her class size: just a handful of students show up when the weather is particularly nasty. It's a hiccup in her syllabus, but one that teachers usually plan for, she told HuffPost Canada.

Inglis doesn't hold it against anyone who keep their kids in, noting that educators understand that parents are coming from all kinds of situations. But to those who might feel like they're dropping kids off at a movie theatre on a bus cancellation day, she wants them to know that's a misconception.

Smaller classes can benefit kids who are hoping to catch-up or get more one-on-one time with teachers.

On days when less than half her class shows up, Inglis focuses on helping kids catch up on missed assignments and encourages independent work time for those with extracurricular activities.

As a mom of three married to a fellow teacher, when buses are cancelled are her eldest daughter's favourite days to go to school.

"She gets a quiet place to go, which she doesn't get every day. She gets a lot of one-on-one time with her teacher, so it's kind of a win," Inglis said.

Should the weather permit time outside, the magic of a post-snowstorm recess spent with friends is nothing to scoff at.

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"I remember those days fondly when I think back to my childhood," Reali said. "Kids think it's magical and can't wait to get out into it."

You decided to stay in. Now what?

After weighing their options, staying put is what will end up happening for one's family. But keeping kids occupied on those impromptu snow days can be challenging. Here are a few tips for busting boredom:

  • Ever the teacher, Inglis is always a fan of cozying up with a good book.
  • Buckworth suggests bundling up and playing in the snow: it burns energy and gets kids away from screens.
  • Arts and crafts are always an option.
  • Take a nap! All that mental energy determining what to do deserves some Kindergarten-tier shut-eye.
  • Cooking lunch and dinner are healthy ways to pass a snow day. Baking cookies and stuffing your faces might not be as healthy, but if it sparks joy, why not treat yourselves?
  • There's always cleaning, but bringing this up as a potential passtime might have kids wishing they were in school instead.

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