Given that there was a council meeting scheduled on Monday, I had planned to write about council's final review of the draft budget that was to have taken place, however Mother Nature had other plans, and the council meeting, like most of what was to have taken place in Meaford on Monday, was cancelled.
Cancelling a council meeting due to weather is a fairly rare occurrence. In the nearly ten years that I have been reporting on Meaford's council, I have but just one foggy memory of a council meeting having to be cancelled – school buses on the other hand are another story, and I have heard several complaints from parents this winter about the growing number of 'snow days'.
Most often when the buses are cancelled, the schools remain open and those who can walk to school are encouraged to do so. On Monday of this week however, everything was shut down from municipal facilities to the schools, and venturing outside was clearly a dangerous exercise, so there are no complaints to be heard in those circumstances. But what about all the other days when a good percentage of students are able to make it to school?
I have seen many parents ask why the buses are cancelled when they were perfectly able to drive to work, and the answer is complex. First of all, insurance companies don't want school bus operators to take unnecessary risks with our children, and that is understandable. Another consideration is that, while it could be perfectly fine in your neighbourhood, across the municipality conditions can be quite different, so you can't always judge whether buses should have been cancelled based on looking out your own window, or your own travels.
But the issue is real, and parents are right to be concerned and to ask questions, particularly questions about how we could do better.
As I have listened to and read the concerns from parents about the growing number of snow days, I have wondered why we aren't using all of this wonderful technology to help us through.
It would seem to me that, in this age when we can live-stream public events using the phones in our pockets, and if we can complete entire university courses online, then why haven't we found a way to work that technology into our snow days?
When the buses are cancelled, why can't all those bus students simply fire up their home computer, tablet, or mobile phone, in order to attend class 'virtually'? (As a parent, I promise you that on those snow days, the students aren't at home baking cookies, they are using a computer, tablet, or phone to watch Youtube videos, play games, or to chat with their friends, so they could just as well use those devices to tune into class.)
Obviously the older the student, the more value would be found in having some sort of live-stream that students could tune into from home, take notes, and heck, they could even ask questions either via text or audio.
When I have posed this question to others, some have suggested that the infrastructure to have virtual classes on snow days isn't in place, and that may be true, but the technology exists and is in regular use elsewhere (even Meaford council meetings can be tuned into live on the internet), so the lack of current infrastructure is really just a speed-bump along the way.
Others have asked me about students with lesser means. What if a student doesn't have a computer, or a tablet, or a phone, because their family can't afford it? That is certainly an important consideration, and while the number of students without access to a computer, tablet, or phone is no doubt very low, we would still need to establish a program that would ensure that those with lesser means could still have the device needed at home in order to participate in class lessons while snowbound at home.
I would never suggest that there aren't challenges that would need to be addressed and overcome, but in this modern era of incredible technology that can be carried around in our pockets, I find it hard to believe that we can come up with no better solution to inclement winter weather than to cancel the buses and have just a small portion of students show up for class.
We can do better. We have the technology, we just need to use it more wisely.