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Stop hibernating: New Brunswick needs to find snow day sanity

March 07, 2019
Stop hibernating: New Brunswick needs to find snow day sanity

This column was published in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal on March 7, 2019.

The occasional snow day is like Christmas morning for a kid. “Math will still be there when the snow melts!” announced Calvin to Hobbes gleefully in the iconic comic strip. But when snow days are freezing up to three weeks of the school year, it’s not a rare, joyous occurrence – it’s an expensive problem that needs fixing.

Excessive snow days in New Brunswick mean a loss of classroom learning. They’re a waste of education funding. They’re incredibly inconvenient for working parents, who are forced to miss work, resulting in a loss of overall productivity and stressful situations for low-income families. They’re also completely out of touch with the rest of Canada.

The solution is simple. When winter weather occurs – barring rare, extreme weather events – kids can still go to school. When the buses can’t run, schools can stay open. Many students can get a drive or carpool, and in some cases, kids can walk.

We all value safety above all else, but the situation has snowballed out of control. Reportedly, New Brunswick students missed up to 15 days of school in 2015-16 because of snow days. One high school kid in Northern New Brunswick even created a snow day app because he was tired of checking his computer so often to see if school was cancelled. 

Classroom interaction between students and teachers is vital and the province’s education spending reflects that.

New Brunswick taxpayers paid $1.3 billion for Education and Early Childhood development this past year. That’s $3.56 million per day. 

That means, over the course of those 15 missed days of school, that’s $53.4 million spent – and what’s the value for those dollars? The Education and Early Childhood Development budget covers more than just classroom learning and teachers’ compensation, but leaving schools empty means millions in waste.

Keeping schools open even when buses aren’t running is a solution that Education Minister Dominic Cardy is rightly exploring. In some cases, simply delaying school by an hour or two would work fine. But even those two scenarios are an anomaly in most of Canada.

In Ottawa, schools were closed recently due to snow for the first time in 23 years. In Toronto, snow closed schools this year for only the third time in 20 years. As a policy, the areas surrounding Toronto keep schools open even when buses aren’t running. 

"Our schools will remain open through most weather-related occurrences, including snow or -40 C temperatures," Regina Public Schools spokesperson Terry Lazarou told the CBC.

Public schools in Edmonton have had zero snow days in the last 10 years. Zero.

Winnipeg hasn’t had a snow day in over 30 years.

The excessive use of snow days is a problem right across the Maritimes and New Brunswickers deserve better than forced hibernation due to predictable winter weather.

We know that New Brunswick kids are already falling behind. Minister Cardy says that only 61.1 per cent of Grade 6 anglophone students and 62.6 per cent of Grade 3 francophone students performed successfully on provincial reading assessments. New Brunswick students are also lagging 200 hours behind the national average in instruction time, according to the government. 

It’s simple: If we value classroom time, and we certainly pay a lot for it, then we should do all we can to avoid kids missing it.

Every day kids aren’t in class, we’re throwing tens of millions of valuable education dollars away and nobody wins. If the government moves to keep schools open even when buses aren’t running – and discourages excessive snow days overall – it deserves top marks.

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