Now that the fall season is here, Peace Wapiti Public School Division (PWPSD) reminds families to prepare for the possibility of bus cancellations and to ensure students are always dressed for the weather.
Superintendent Bob Stewart says a lot of thought goes into deciding to shut down all bus routes.
"During times of inclement weather, Ted Gobin, Director of Transportation, and a Transportation employee in the northern end of the division are both on call," adds Mr. Stewart. "Between 4:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., Mr. Gobin consults with local weather reports and Alberta511. By 4:30 a.m., and over the course of the next two hours, both employees drive the primary and secondary highways throughout PWPSD's attendance boundaries, covering approximately 150 to 200 kilometers each, while performing braking tests to determine skid conditions."
As the delegated authority to shut down all bus routes, or a section of routes, Mr. Gobin will make a decision by 6:30 a.m. and then notify the Superintendent. Local radio stations pull individual route updates from PWPSD's online School Bus Route Notifier, a place where families can also sign up for email notifications on the status of one or more routes. Regional and division-wide cancellations are shared on PWPSD's Facebook and Twitter feeds. Some drivers may call individual homes, and the division may opt to send out automated phone messages.
Given the size of the school division, weather conditions can be unacceptable in one section, but fine in other areas.
"In addition to cancelled routes, drivers will not pick up students on primary or secondary highways when weather conditions, such as heavy fog, have created a situation of limited or no visibility," adds Mr. Gobin. "This decision is left to the driver's discretion, and families will be notified by telephone. We also encourage parents to call their bus driver or PWPSD's Transportation Office if they feel weather conditions have made their stop dangerous. If buses are cancelled when travel to extracurricular events is planned, such as sports tournaments or field trips, parents should check with their school on the status of the trip. Inclement weather en route to the event, or at the destination, may also impact the decision to allow students to travel." (Note: Due to COVID-19 health measures during the 2020-21 school year, field trips and activities requiring transportation are postponed until further notice.)
Key points for families to remember:
- Students: Dress warmly for the weather. Wait times could be extended by weather and road conditions.
- Parents: It is your decision to allow your child to ride a bus during inclement weather. Share your decision with your bus driver and the closest Transportation Office: Grande Prairie, (780) 532-7734 or Spirit River, (780) 864-3741.
- Contact information: Provide your current daytime telephone number to your bus driver and the closest Transportation Office.
- Safety: According to the American School Bus Council, school buses are the safest method for transporting children to and from school. PWPSD bus drivers are dedicated employees who put student safety first. A bus driver who has made a reasonable attempt may cancel their specific route, in consultation with the Director of Transportation.
- Cold weather cancellation: Buses are cancelled at -40° Celsius excluding wind chill, or -48° with wind chill (Source: Weather Network).
- Varying conditions: With 100 bus routes operating across more than 16,000 km2, varying road and weather conditions are common.
- Know your zone: PWPSD is divided into seven zones, based on high school attendance areas. In times of inclement weather, all buses associated with a particular high school attendance area are cancelled at the same time. Any or all seven zones could be cancelled at any time. Parents of elementary students need to know which high school is associated with their area, as outlined in Policy EEAF – PWPSD Buses and School Operation during Inclement Weather.
- Visibility issues: Bus drivers will not stop on primary or secondary highways when there is limited or no visibility. The Transportation Office will notify parents by telephone. Families should call their driver or the closest office if they feel their stop is dangerous.