Humber should announce reopenings after severe weather event

Mar 16, 2023 | OP-ED, Opinion

Communication is important for students both before and after a school closure. Humber needs to remember this principle and revise its protocols during severe weather.

Humber announced severe weather closures three times this winter. The college notified students and employees of the closure through emails and updates on its social media and websites.

But each time, the college did not make an announcement the following day on whether campus was reopened. It referred students and employees to its severe weather closure procedures in its emails instead.

A screenshot of a mass email sent by Humber College to its students on Feb. 22, 2023, when the school announced closure before a winter storm hit.

A screenshot of a mass email sent by Humber College to its students on Feb. 22, 2023, when the school announced an evening closure before a winter storm hit. Photo credit: Humber College

The current protocol is hidden in section 6.1 of the college’s procedures, which said campus operations will resume normal the day after the closure unless otherwise stated.

Tweets from the college were slightly clearer, which said students should consider campus to be reopened unless a new notice was posted before 6 a.m. the next day. But such tweets did not stop students from asking for updates either.

Somewhat surprisingly, Humber is not the only post-secondary education institution following this line of thought. The University of Toronto also has a policy that the school automatically reopens the day after a closure.

True Whitmore, a student enrolled in the culinary management diploma program, said it is fair to assume the college is open, but this doesn’t mean students will return to class.

“I feel like a lot of people do miss classes because they just expect for (the college’s) notice,” Whitmore said.

But behind these expectations are legitimate concerns.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, most deaths from winter storms result from traffic accidents on icy roads, or even heart attacks when people shovel or plow their ways out.

The immediate aftermath of a winter storm, therefore, is not a resumption to normal as some people may think.

This is especially true for Humber students. The college does not regularly collect data on where students live, but a survey conducted by Smart Commute Toronto in 2013 showed 30.76 per cent of full-time Humber students lived more than 10 kilometres away from North Campus.

Jasmeen Kaur, another student from Humber’s culinary school, said she sometimes feels unsafe to travel back to campus for morning classes the day after a winter storm, as snow on the roads has been cleared yet.

The area outside Humber College's North Campus remains largely covered by snow on Jan. 26, 2023.

The area outside Humber College's North Campus remains largely covered by snow on Jan. 26, 2023. Photo credit: Antonio Peláez Barceló

Some students simply make their own judgements. Julia Giurdanella, who studies kinesiology at Humber, said most of the time she skips her classes if she feels weather conditions have yet to become alright.

Humber allows students to decide on their own. In a campus closure reminder posted last December, the college said students can email their professors about not coming to class if they think roadways near their homes or the college remain unsafe.

The reminder has not been repeated since then. For some students, such a simple reminder after a winter storm can do the trick.

Yun Nan Soh, a mechanical engineering student at Humber, said it will be better for the college to say campus is reopened in the early morning after a winter storm.

Even Whitmore said an early update will make her life less stressful, as she needs to get up at 5 a.m. to get on the bus for morning classes.

“I don’t know if it’s gonna happen,” she said.

For the University of Toronto, the school announced on Twitter each morning after a winter storm that campus was reopened and reminded students to plan for extra travel time, although it is not obliged to do so under the current policy.

Humber can learn from the University of Toronto. The college can provide similar updates after a severe weather hazard so students will not be left in the dark.