This year, the month of November has been kinder than most, but the Transportation Department at Peace Wapiti Public School Division (PWSD) has already declared one Division-wide cancellation of buses due to inclement weather this fall, on October 14.
Superintendent Sheldon Rowe says a lot of thought goes into deciding to shut down all bus routes, and even though November weather has been fair this year, families need to be prepared for the possibility of cancelled routes.
"During times of inclement weather, Ted Gobin, PWSD's Director of Transportation, and a Transportation employee located in the northern end of the Division, are both on call," says Superintendent Rowe. "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 PWSD'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 6:00 a.m. and then notify the Superintendent. Local radio stations pull updates from PWSD's online and e-mail-based bus route notification system and announcements are published on PWSD's website and Facebook and Twitter feeds. Families are encouraged to sign up for email notifications on the status of one or more PWSD bus routes at http://transportation.pwsd76.ab.ca. Some bus drivers may also make calls to individual homes, and the Division may opt to send out automated messages to homes using PowerAnnounce telephone notification software.
But what happens when road and weather conditions are acceptable in one section of the Division, but unacceptable in another area?
"With the task of managing 104 bus routes over a geographical area of more than 16,000 square kilometres, equating to half the size of Vancouver Island, it is likely that we will see varying road and weather conditions," adds Mr. Rowe. "A bus driver who has made a reasonable attempt may cancel their specific route, under consultation with PWSD's Director of Transportation. In addition to radio announcements and our e-mail notification system, drivers will often contact families directly to notify them of the route cancellation, which is why it is important for families to provide their current daytime telephone number to their bus driver. PWSD's bus drivers are dedicated employees who put the safety of students first. If they choose to shut down their route, it will be with good reason. Students are advised to dress warmly for the weather as wait times could be extended by weather and road conditions."
"According to the American School Bus Council, school buses are the safest method for transporting children to and from school," adds Superintendent Rowe. "However, the final decision regarding whether a child rides a bus during times of inclement weather remains with parents. Families who choose to keep their child at home should contact their bus driver or PWSD's Transportation Office at (780) 532-7734."
"In addition to cancelled routes, PWSD bus 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," says 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 PWSD's Transportation Office if they feel weather conditions have made their stop dangerous. Also, if buses are cancelled during a time when travel to extracurricular events is planned, such as sports tournaments or field trips, parents should check with their school regarding 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."
For bus cancellations due to inclement weather, PWSD is divided into six zones based on high school attendance areas. All buses associated with a particular high school attendance area are cancelled at the same time. Any or all six zones could be cancelled at any time, and parents of elementary students need to know which high school is associated with their area, as outlined in Policy EEAF – PWSD Buses and School Operation during Inclement Weather, available online at www.pwsd76.ab.ca.
Photo Caption: Peace Wapiti Public School Division manages one of the largest transportation system in Alberta. Each day, 104 school bus drivers travel more than 14,225 kilometres in a total service area of more than 16,000 square kilometres, transporting 3,900 students to 29 schools.