During the power outage on Nov. 7 that left the entire North Island in the dark for 12 hours, School District 85 schools opened in the morning as usual.
“The School District is often questioned about why, on those windy and rainy mornings without power, we don’t simply close schools for the day,” said ‘on-secondment to the Ministry of Education’ Superintendent of Schools Scott Benwell. “The answer, in my mind, is quite simple,” Benwell said.
“Public education ought to be a highly reliable, trusted, and stable entity in our communities. When a decision about closure is needed, I think about the impact that decision can have on our community services, including our volunteers,” he said.
“When the weather is poor, we need people to take care of things in our community. We require drainage to be attended to, community security to be maintained, and responses available if our neighbours have problems,” he said.
Benwell believes the last thing a school district should do is introduce a complication into the lives of nurses, public works personnel, RCMP, ambulance, and volunteer firefighters, just to name a few, by closing schools and leaving parents and caregivers scrambling.
“I take the view that schools, if possible, should be open to receive students as is expected on any other day. If conditions and circumstances are such that we need to release students back to families, we can do that in a responsible, organized and safe way later in the morning,” he said.
“The reality is that as safety lights fail, we do begin a process of release home.”
Additionally, Benwell believes families are free to make decisions for themselves to keep their children home for the day, based on the conditions and their needs, and those decisions are respected.
“In short, perfect decisions are rare. A philosophy of community-mindedness and stability is, for the most part, appreciated and expected of public education.”