Rural students don’t snow what to do about storm safety

With three storms in the last week, New Brunswick is seeing it’s most Canadian winter in a long time. Many are cheering for snow days on end, but road conditions and the unpredictability of cancellations are causing headaches for students outside the city limits.

Fourth-year student Paige Kynock travels from Oromocto every day. She said she thinks sometimes rural off-campus students are overlooked when the school is making decisions about closing the university due to weather.

“Sometimes the roads where I live are so bad that cars have trouble getting out of their driveways, let alone anywhere else,” she said.

“There have definitely been days where I thought I’d get into an accident, but I had to go to classes due to mandatory attendance policies in some of my courses.”

Jeffrey Carleton, director of communciations at St. Thomas University, said the university reviewed its inclement weather policy in December and changes were put into effect last month. The unpredictability of the weather and the safety of the school’s community members inspired the updates.

He said the new policy, which can be read on the university’s website, puts more emphasis on flexibility for both students and staff, including professors.

“We say people are supposed to make reasonable attempts to attend class, but safety is paramount.”

Vice-president research and academic Kim Fenwick is the person who makes the decision to close, delay or keep the university open. Consultations between Fenwick, the University of New Brunswick’s facilities staff and STU’s director of facilities Bill MacLean begin as early as 5 a.m. with the aim to have the decision made by approximately 6:45 a.m.

Whether or not adequate snow removal has been made on campus, the status of city buses, RCMP suggestions and information from Environment Canada are all considerable factors. How the weather is supposed to unfold over the course of the day is looked at as well before the decision is made.

Carleton said with the new policy, there are more opportunities for students, faculty and staff to make decisions in their own best interest and make reasonable accommodations for those who have exceptional circumstances.

Sydney Rickard travels from Noonan, just outside the city limits. She said roads get bad enough to make it tough for her to get to classes and she feels off-campus students aren’t taken into consideration.

“As for the drive from Noonan, it’s not always that bad, but between not being plowed all the time and the atrocious pot holes it can sometimes be really bad. I will always be in class because that’s a standard I hold for myself, but sometimes it’s a slow drive in.”

First-year UNB student Dalton Heagney drives 45 minutes each way every day from Upper Salmon Creek between Minto and Chipman. He chooses to for financial reasons, but still gets annoyed by how much time is taken away from being able to do productive things and the risk it poses when the roads are bad.

Because of Thursday night’s storm, Heagney missed his 9:30 a.m. class on Friday morning. Neither his road nor his driveway were plowed, so there was no way he could make it out. He did, however, have to plow through himself later in order to make it to his 11:30 a.m. midterm.

He said he gets nervous about sudden cancellations.

“Obviously I don’t want to drive all the way up, spend my gas and my time to find out that school’s cancelled because you never know when it’s going to be cancelled,” he said.

“Some days [it’s questionable] and then some days they cancel it and it makes sense, so it’s kind of hit and miss. I can’t predict so that’s the hard part about it.”

Carleton said the biggest difficulty the university faces is overall safety. He said ten years ago there were more students living in residence, but now there are fewer students living on campus and are instead deciding to travel like faculty and staff do.

He said, in his experience, people have been understanding of how difficult it is to make the decision, and they know if they feel it’s not safe to travel, they won’t.

“I can tell you without hesitation students shouldn’t think we’re not factoring their safety into the decision. The biggest challenge we have now is the volatility of the weather.”

Heagney said he knows the universities probably consider people travelling in from outside of Fredericton, but those kinds of students are in the minority and decisions have to be made based on the majority.

“When there’s a storm coming I either hope it’s really, really, really bad or not bad at all because if it’s in the middle, chances are they’re going to still have school … I think they should take the extra precaution because it’s really not worth it … I’m the type of person where if it’s a stressful situation or dangerous, I’m just going to stay home and see the notes online. I have to weigh out my options.”

When asked how he would prepare for Sunday night’s storm, he said he always has the option to stay with someone in Fredericton, but still wasn’t sure.

“[I have to] look at my options and hope for the best, as always. That’s all I can do. Hopefully the school makes the right decision.”

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