Heavy snow and winds battered Corner Brook on Thursday, closing businesses and schools. (CBC)
A Corner Brook parent whose children's bus ride home was cancelled Thursday amid a snowstorm says the school district waited too long to send students home ahead of weather that had been forecast well in advance.
"They shouldn't have had the children at school at all," said Angela Aultman.
"It wasn't an unexpected storm. This wasn't a complete surprise or a fluke event. The information was there."
On Thursday, high winds paired with heavy snow battered much of Newfoundland's west coast, closing many businesses. Despite the storm, schools in Corner Brook opened.
When the school board decided to close at midday, students were left without rides home after the snowstorm forced bus service cancellations.
After looking at Thursday's forecast, Aultman considered keeping her kids home, but ultimately they both boarded the bus. The call to close schools should have gone out earlier in the day, she said.
Around 1 p.m., she said, the school board sent out an email that schools were closing early due to an unexpected change in the weather and it wasn't safe to have buses on the road.
She was told parents could pick up their children or they could stay at the school until it was safe for buses to be back on the road.
Around the time school typically got out, Aultman said a teacher called to ask her what the dismissal plan was for her children. Then she was told waiting for the bus was no longer an option and that her sons would stay at the school's office until they could be picked up around 3 p.m.
Thankfully, she said, her husband was able to leave work and collect their children.
"Everybody's home and safe and sound. But this whole process has certainly been really frustrating. There was no written communication advising of the change regarding the plans for the bus, that there was no bus."
Teachers left to co-ordinate
Donna Organ-Hulan, a teacher at Corner Brook Intermediate, says the situation was stressful for children, fretting and unsure how they were getting home — some of them were crying.
"The amount of fear and trauma basically that not only children were experiencing, but staff members thinking about going home as well, and staff members having to make a decision about how children were going to get home."
Since no buses arrived at the school, Organ-Hulan said, some students received pickups from parents or were sent home in taxis. If students didn't have a ride home, she said, they would have had to stay at school, and teachers would ensure they were safe and fed. Everyone managed to get home by around 4 p.m., she said.
Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association president Trent Langdon says he knows the situation was frustrating for his members.
"It certainly led to a very tangly day for all those schools in that area."
"When these types of events are potentially anticipated — and that according to the forecast they were anticipated, to a degree — we really do feel these kinds of things could have been avoided."
NLTA president Trent Langdon credited to teachers and administrators who coordinated getting hundreds of students back home. (Peter Cowan/CBC)
The decision-making process for closures is outside the realm of the NLTA, said Langdon, but he said their goal now is to determine if the processes are being followed and if things need to change.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Education Department spokesperson Lynn Robinson said Minister Krista Lynn Howell wasn't available for an interview.
Robinson wrote that the department takes the safety for students and school staff seriously and closure decisions relating to weather are made by a team from the Corner Brook regional office of NLSchools — formerly the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.
She added the decision-making process also hasn't changed since school district was integrated into the provincial government.
"Decision-makers monitor prospective and current weather forecasts on a constant basis. As you can appreciate, weather patterns can change unexpectedly; however, schools are prepared for these unexpected situations," Robinson wrote.
"Students and staff were safe and secure at their respective schools until the weather passed or until picked up by parents/guardians. Buses were able to run just before 3 p.m. and all remaining students were already home or were enroute."