Sleds, or school books? You can bet what most Surrey students would rather reach for. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Calling a snow day – or not – is a big decision for Surrey public schools

There’s much to consider before cancelling classes for 73,948 Surrey students

Ever wonder what all goes into the Surrey’s public school superintendent’s decision to declare a district-wide “snow day” closure? Or not?

On Wednesday, roads were slippery, there was snow, and schools were closed. On Thursday, roads were slippery, there was snow, and the schools were open.

What gives?

Ritinder Matthew, the district’s spokeswoman, takes us through the process. She says a “quite comprehensive” protocol is followed, involving numerous people, that informs Superintendent Jordan Tinney’s decision whether to cancel a school day.

“A recommendation to close schools or cancel buses is discussed with key district personnel.”

Matthew explained that “designated staff throughout the district, including facilities staff, travel predetermined routes to assess roads, sidewalks, school and parking lot conditions.

”The facilities staff are going out there anyways to clean the school parking lots. They’re actually out really early, so three or four o’clock in the morning they’re out clearing the sidewalks and the roads so that it’s safe for when the kids start coming in,” she said.

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Ritinder Matthew, manager of communications for Surrey Schools. (Submitted photo)

“Our superintendent also drives throughout the district himself, just to see what the routes are like,” Matthew said. “There’s a bunch of school district staff that are out on the roads, bright and early in the morning, and they’re assessing the conditions and they report back. Ultimately it’s the superintendent that makes the decision, but there’s a lot of recommendations he takes into consideration, a lot of people he discusses that decision with. So it’s not an easy decision to make, but it’s well thought out.”

Tinney can almost count on one hand – not quite, but almost– the number of times he’s closed the district.

“In the six years that I’ve been superintendent for Surrey Schools, we’ve had six closures, including the one yesterday,” he told the Now-Leader. “The longest duration was two consecutive days – that was in February of 2017.”

Indeed, deciding to keep the schools open or closed is no small undertaking, considering Surrey School District covers 328 square kilometres and is Surrey’s largest employer, with a staff of 11,731 serving 73,948 students in 101 elementary schools, 20 secondary schools, five student learning centres, and three adult education centres.

Not to mention, all those parents scrambling to sort out their children’s day, in response to Tinney’s decision.

“Also there’s other staff here that will drive designated routes. I mean, Surrey’s such as vast area, right? Conditions in one community can be very different than conditions in another area and so they travel all the routes.”

Power outages and other “emergent” issues are also considered, Matthew said, especially at schools. “Are pipes frozen?”

After all this, the superintendent consults with neighbouring school districts. “There’s a Metro Vancouver superintendents’ call in the morning, and then a decision is made. Safety is always considered.”

On Wednesday Surrey school staff were scouting it all out at 3 a.m. and Tinney made his decision at 5:45 a.m., Matthew said. “It was a pretty quick turnaround.”

This is important, she noted, because it gives parents enough time to get their children ready for school or make other arrangements if a snow day is called. Did the district get any blow-back from the decision to cancel classes on Wednesday but not Thursday?

“On the whole no, actually,” Matthew replied. “I think you get both sides of it, right.

“It is a big impact on parents – they have to find childcare, they need to figure out what they’re going to do with their kids that day.”

So why close Wednesday but not Thursday?

Matthew said the roads were “a lot better” on Thursday.

“It’s conditions, what we know what to expect throughout the day, so it’s weather reports, it’s conditions at the schools, the routes leading up to the schools.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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