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Kids safer at school than at home in extreme weather: Olds fire chief

MVT stock cold weather
Olds Fire Department encourages parents to make decisions about whether to send their children to school in extreme weather based on what they feel is best for their child. File photo

The fire chief of the Olds Fire Department is weighing in on public debate about the safety of sending kids to school during extreme weather days.

With temperatures reaching -40 C or lower in some areas of Central Alberta over the last two days, both Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD) and Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools cancelled all buses but kept schools open including in Innisfail, Bowden, Olds, Sundre, Carstairs and Cremona.

The fire department issued a statement today in reponse to questions and comments about children attending school on extremely cold days.

Parents were first encouraged to make decisions based on what they felt was best for their child.

But for those who are unsure, fire chief Justin Andrew said because of the sheer number of people looking out for kids at school, he felt it was safer to be there than at home.  

“During cold weather events it would be one of our first priorities to ensure that children are safe and warm, and that we personally feel our children are safer at school than at home due to the fact that there are many people watching out for their needs and have many resources to do so,” Andrew said. "I take comfort being at work knowing my kids are being cared for in top notch facilities.”

Along with the potential for frosbite in getting to or from school, parents have also expressed concerns about what happens if an emergency forces a school evacuation.

CESD officials say all our schools have developed detailed safety plans, which include evacuation plans on the “very rare occasions” that a school needs to be evacuated.

Andrew also clarified that extreme weather does not increase the chances of an emergency happening at schools.

“There is no higher likelihood of a fire or emergency in a school during these conditions as they are inspected constantly by the fire department and their own safety people to minimize risk and danger every day of the year,” Andrew said in the statement.

CESD uses the term Yellow Day when buses are not running but schools are open. Some conditions which may result in a Yellow Day include: temperatures that fall below -35 degrees Celcius ambient or - 40 degrees Celcius with windchill; reduced visibility, road or climatic conditions.

According to CESD’s inclement weather procedure document, on a Yellow Day, the majority of students, parents and staff have safe transportation to school.

It describes a scenario where buses are unable to operate because the temperature is -37 degrees Celsius.

“Because approximately 65% of our students live in town, and many of our rural parents may choose to drive their child to school on Yellow days, we may have as many as 80-90% of our students with safe transportation to our schools,” the document reads.

To have the majority of students present and willing to learn, and then not proceed with teaching and learning, is unfair to the students in attendance, the document states.

“Our highest priority is safety, and we weigh this alongside our goal to provide learning in all our schools to the extent possible during challenging weather conditions.”

Red days are when a given school, area or the entire division may be closed.

“These are days when we are faced with extremely cold temperatures (ambient temperature for a significant part of the day is lower than - 40 degrees Celsius, or the temperature with wind chill is lower than - 50 degrees Celsius), or a full-blown blizzard, or when we have a combination of heavy snow, high winds, and very low visibility,” the document states.