The Calgary Board of Education’s (CBE) outdoor cold weather policy has put the chill on some parents frustrated kids don’t have a choice to stay indoors when temperatures dip.
David Hohol said that his daughter, who attends Wilma Hansen School in southeast Calgary, was told they had to go outdoors for half of a 40-minute lunch break during the recent cold snap and snow on Tuesday. They weren’t given an option, despite the weather, he said.
The temperature in Calgary on that day averaged around -10 Celsius, not including any windchill, and several centimetres (9.2 cm recorded) of snow accumulated, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada data.
When Hohol questioned the decision, he said he was told by school officials that it’s Calgary Board of Education policy for students to be outside.
“I mean, I find it shocking,” he said.
“Frostbite kicks in at minus 15, and they’re sending kids out there in up to minus 20. It just seems crazy to me.”
The CBE said they couldn’t comment on a specific situation at a school; however, they confirmed that when temperatures reach -20 C or colder, including windchill, students should be brought indoors for recess or lunch breaks.
“We recognize the value of outdoor breaks such as recess and lunch during the school day. Students should be prepared and dressed for all weather conditions,” read a statement from the CBE.
The CBE also said that in advance of the changing weather conditions, they posted weather reminders on Oct. 18 on their website and the individual school websites. They said they also posted reminders on their social media channels.
Providing options to students
Hohol said he’s all for the push to get outdoors. He said he appreciates the commitment of Wilma Hansen School to keep kids active and to get them outdoors – when appropriate. But, he’s also heard the concern from other parents in the school community about the cold weather policy.
“I don’t like the demand part of it. I don’t like the forced part of it. It should be an option,” he said, noting that kids could stay by their lockers, or put time in studying in the library.
“We definitely have to get kids out there and be more active but when it’s minus 18 I don’t want to go outside. Nobody does.”
While frostbite is one concern, he said with other things like Covid and RSV and the general flu floating around, he believes it’s inviting more student absences. Further, he said when kids do go out in the cold weather, they often congregate at a nearby 7-Eleven.
“There’s so many things about it that … cause concern beyond just being outside for activity,” he said.
Hohol said he was also asked if his daughter was appropriately dressed for the weather.
“I go, ‘well, I have to argue with her to put everything on when she goes out the door but then when she’s going out for lunch, I don’t know what she’s wearing,’” he said.
He also suggested that some students – particularly newcomers, or those that may be marginalized – may not have the means to afford proper winter attire.
The CBE said that schools have the flexibility to make accommodations based on members of their school community. They also said that schools can work with families to connect them with organizations to help with winter clothing.
Further, the CBE said they provide supervision for students both inside and outside of school. It’s done by school staff in older grades, not by dedicated lunch supervisors.
Hohol told his daughter she had to abide by the rules; she had a voice, however, and encouraged her to advocate for something she believed in.
“I just find it very surprising that this was the policy, that they would actually force, literally demand, that kids go outside,” he said.