How to keep school kids safe in extreme weather

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It is every parent’s nightmare for their kids to be left out in the cold and stranded. This is especially scary in winter when extended exposure to the elements can be fatal. Since Manitoba is no stranger to extreme weather, it would be helpful to know what to do to ensure your child’s safety. Here are a few tips:

  1. Always check announcements – Make it a habit to check weather conditions everyday especially once winter starts. Check 7-day weather forecasts to help you prepare and take proper precautions (check Environment Canada, Manitoba). When an extreme weather disturbance is expected, check updates as early as you can to get information about:
    • Road conditions
    • Bus service (information on cancellations become available as early as 6:15 am)
    • School closures

    Check the school website (see community resources below) for bus or school cancellations. Media outlets are also contacted in the early morning for information. Here are some media channels and websites you can tune into or browse:

    Radio stations:
    89.3 CBC FM; 990 CBC AM; CKSB 89.9 FM (French); CJOB-680 AM; Power 97-FM; 1290 CFRW; 99.9 BOB-FM; FAB 94.3 FM; 92 CITI FM; 102.3 KISS FM; Virgin Radio 103; QX 104 FM

    Storm Centre Manitoba (for School closures, highway info and weather alerts)
    Global News Winnipeg Traffic
    CTV News
    Winnipeg Free Press
    511 Manitoba Road and Traveller Information

    As an added precaution, accompany your child to the bus stop. Wait to make sure that your child will not be stranded. When bus service is not cancelled, they usually arrive or depart late due to severe weather conditions or poor roads. When possible, drive them to school to ensure safety and to keep them from being out in the cold for too long. Check the Windchill Hazards table to have an idea of how long a person can stay outside safely in extremely cold weather.

  2. Be aware of school policies – Manitoba schools, especially in Winnipeg, do not usually cancel classes even in inclement weather. However, according to the Winnipeg School Division, bus transportation is cancelled when the wind chill reaches -45 °C (based on Environment Canada readings at The Forks). Bus service will not resume in the afternoon even when weather conditions improve. To be certain that your child is safe:
    • Know school policies– Schools outside of Winnipeg will have different regulations regarding cancellations. It will be best to be aware of these rules. Also, know how to access information or announcements, or who to call for urgent information.
    • Keep phone lines open – Some schools directly call parents when school is cancelled for the day, but not all schools will. However, most schools will call you when your child is not in school and no prior notice is given. It is best to keep your phone lines open when there is a possibility of bus or school cancellation.
    • Have emergency numbers on hand– Save the number of the school on your mobile phone. If possible, also know where to reach the school principal and the transport/bus company.
  3. Make an emergency plan
  4. Draft a plan for possible scenarios so that your child will know what to do in any contingency. Where will he/she go if there is no bus or if there is a late pick-up? Who will he/she be with if school is cancelled, if there is an early dismissal and other situations.

    • Discuss the plan thoroughly with your child. Make sure that the child understands and follows it.
    • You may need to:
      • provide him a copy of the house keys (or code)
      • arrange for an alternative place to go to, or person to ask help from (like a neighbor) in case of emergencies
      • arrange for child care to make sure that your child has a place to go when you (or your spouse) can’t leave work.
    • Provide older kids with a mobile phone. Teach them how to use it only for emergencies.
  5. Make sure that they are clothed well – Ensure that their clothes are thick enough (and that they have enough layers) to keep them warm and protect them from frostbite. In addition to their winter jacket, ski pants, gloves, hat and snow boots, they may need extra protection like a scarf or mask (or balaclava) when there is blowing snow. Pack extra gloves just in case. For smaller kids, watch out for choking hazards like scarves and hood strings. Choose clothes or shoes that are fastened with Velcro instead. Even if they will not go out during recess time, they may need extra protection when waiting for the bus or walking to their school building.
  6. Use your discretion– When classes are not cancelled but you cannot ensure that your child will have a safe way to get to school or come home after, it may be best to keep your child at home. Their safety far outweighs missing a day of school. Just make sure that you or another adult will be at home to supervise when you have younger kids.

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Community Resources

Check this Winnipeg School Division page to know more about student transportation.

Here is a map with links to all Manitoba School Divisions and Districts. You can also check the Schools in Manitoba Search website. Aside from public schools, it includes independent schools, adult learning schools, and others.

Check Winnipeg 311 EmergWeb for Winter Safety Tips. The site has great information about emergency planning and relevant links to emergency resources.

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