What is the Canadian school schedule during the winter?

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: December 2, 2023

This article will help newcomers gain an understanding of how the public school system operates in Canada during the coldest months.

As many immigrants to Canada come from countries with education systems that are different than what their children will encounter here, it is unlikely that they will be familiar with how schools in this country handle extreme/inclement weather situations. However, this is a prominent concern for immigrant as well as Canadian parents of school-aged children, as the weather can notably impact their child’s education on any given day.

While many schools in Canada also have policies in place for extreme heat, parents are typically most concerned with what happens when their neighbourhood is faced with extremely cold weather, often typified by heavy amounts of snow.

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The following will help newcomers understand what happens at their child’s school on a snowy winter day.

Do schools in Canada close when there is too much snow?

School closure decisions are made individually by each school board around Canada based on a variety of factors, meaning that closure policies will vary depending on the community you live in. In other words, it is important to check with your child’s school to see how they deal with heavy snow days.

Note: The final section of this article will cover how school boards across Canada notify parents of school closures

Generally speaking, however, there have been some patterns that have emerged in recent years, depending on where you live in Canada.

In Atlantic Canada, for example, a CBC report from 2019 indicated that “some school boards consistently [report] double-digit closures over a [single] winter.”

Specifically, CBC noted that Halifax, for example, averaged “about 4.4 snow days a year over the last decade”. By comparison, “similar-sized cities in Quebec and Ontario” averaged less than half as many snow days said the report, with Quebec City at 1.75 days per year and Hamilton at 1.6.

An even bigger contrast can be found, according to the same news story, in the prairie provinces such as Manitoba and Alberta. Spokespeople in Edmonton and Winnipeg both indicated that schools in those cities have had no snow-related closures in at least the last 10 years.

Despite these patterns, it is important to understand, again, that the decision on school closures is made by every school board individually. In addition, as the following will explain, school boards also control whether or not buses and other student transportation vehicles operate on inclement weather days.

School transportation shutdowns on snow days

Another important consideration for parents, especially in the winter, is how their child gets to school. Most important on days with heavy snowfall, this is a critical consideration for many parents because they need to budget for the extra time needed for safe travel in inclement weather.

Note: When schools remain open on days with inclement weather, the final decision on whether to send a child to school is left with the child’s parents. Parents can keep children home from school if they choose.

Needing to balance getting their child to school and ensuring they get to work (or other places they need to be) on time, many parents opt to send their child to school on a school bus.

However, on inclement weather days in the winter, your local school board may keep schools open but cancel school bus transportation for the day. This means that parents would be required to find an alternate way to get their child to school if they normally rely on a bus.

As noted above, the decision to send a child to school on an inclement weather day is ultimately made by the child’s parents, but potential school bus/transportation shutdowns are another important thing to consider for parents of school-aged children in this country.

How are parents notified when their local school board decides to close their child’s school?

When you are looking for information on school transportation shutdowns, school closures or other news related to inclement weather, it is vital to understand where you can find the information relevant to your community.

While these notification procedures also vary, many of Canada’s school boards and authorities use some combination of the following three strategies to notify parents of relevant inclement weather news.

  • The school board’s website
  • The school board’s social media channels (often Twitter/X)
  • The local news

As an example, in Ontario, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) services the public school system in the province’s biggest city. This school board has a policy that indicates that they will provide information to the local news “should a cancellation or closure be necessary” by 6:00 am on the morning of an inclement weather day.

Parents seeking more information about education in this country can visit this dedicated webpage for A Newcomers’ Guide to Education in Canada.

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