Three snow days in a week a record for Cowichan Valley schools

Closing a far-flung operation like the Cowichan Valley school district is a big deal

  • Feb. 22, 2017 11:00 a.m.

“No one at the [Cowichan Valley] school district, even the longest term employees, can remember having two back-to-back snow days in the Cowichan Valley, let alone a third snow day in the same week,” said a press release from School District 79 on Feb. 16.

But, the school district went on, “a run of severe snowstorms, freezing rain and impassible roads kept students and teachers home for three days during the week of Feb. 6, 2017 (Monday, Feb. 6, Tuesday Feb.7 and Thursday Feb. 9)”.

Closing a far-flung operation like the Cowichan Valley school district is a big deal and the decision about whether or not to declare a snow day starts early. In fact, at 3 a.m.

That’s when the School District director of operations, Monroe Grobe, starts work, the school district press release explains.

He reviews weather reports and checks power outages. Then, district staff communicate with Mainroad South Island Contracting. Their crews are already out clearing and have up-to-the minute information.

By 3:30 a.m., four school district managers are driving to their assigned territories, assessing driving and walking conditions, the release reports.

By the time Grobe calls schools superintendent Rod Allen at 5 a.m., the team has the best information available to make a decision.

The only consideration is safety and Allen is on that beat.

“You can’t let the number of previous snow days affect the decision,” he said. “Unsafe is unsafe. And we don’t make the call lightly.”

If the roads are unsafe at 5:30 a.m., Allen calls the Vancouver Island media so it’s on the news in time for families to make arrangements to have kids home for the day. He also starts a phone tree, triggering calls to staff throughout the district. By 6 a.m. “the announcement is on the district website, staff are in the know, it’s on the news and has been picked up by social media.”

In snow-prone areas, parents are up and onto Facebook and Twitter early, too, asking if anyone’s heard anything about a snow day.

According to the school district, their buses “are designed and equipped to manage most snowfalls. Simply by virtue of their weight, the treads move through slush and snow down to the pavement. Most buses sand in front of the drive wheels for traction.”

Drivers are trained and accredited, too.

The district has 31 buses, and routes cover 2,200 kilometres daily, transporting about 3,300 students to 14 Valley schools.

Once the snow stops, crews are out late into the evening, and all weekend getting lanes and parking lots ready for kids and families to return to school.

While the final decision on a district snow day is up to the superintendent, he said parents should certainly keep children home if they feel it’s warranted.

“Even if schools are open, and you think the kids should stay home, then keep them home. Safety is priority one,” he said.