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Extreme cold impacts Yukon schools and buses

School buses cancelled throughout territory
The sun peeks through the ice fog over the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse. (Yukon News file)

As temperatures across the territory continued to drop below at least -40 C today, in some places -50 C or colder with the wind chill, many families were left scrambling to figure out how to get their youngsters to school or possibly, for those able, keep them home.

Standard Bus, which operates the school bus system, sent out a territory-wide text alert in the morning stating: “ALL School Bus Routes are CANCELLED today due to weather. This is across the Yukon. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

While transportation to school was off the table for those who use the school bus system, schools remained open, though in some cases advisories were sent out to families about their individual schools.

In the case of St. Elias School in Haines Junction, concerns over staffing issues due to illness, cold weather and the school’s boiler system had already prompted the school council to ask the Department of Education to move to online learning, a request that was ultimately turned down.

A notice to families that was posted on social media Jan. 5, notes: “We have learned from school administration that the school has been short up to 13 staff today for reasons including illness and cold temperatures, and that the school boiler systems are not working correctly due to extreme cold temperatures and issues with propane regulators (when frozen, one of the three boilers work). Weather Canada is forecasting -47 degrees C when school starts tomorrow morning. At times the temperature in the school today was 13 degrees C.”

The notice goes on to highlight the request to move to online learning for the remainder of the week, noting the request was denied and the school would remain open.

“We believe parents should be aware of these concerns when deciding whether to send their kids back to school tomorrow.”

While St. Elias didn’t move to online learning, Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse had already made the move earlier this week due to staffing.

Some others made it clear that while buses weren’t running, schools would be open.

An email to families at Christ the King Elementary School in Whitehorse suggested kids stay at home if getting to school is a safety risk, but the school would be open for those who could get there safely.

Attendance rates vary across Yukon schools on Jan. 4, the first day back for many students after the holiday break.

Absence at Robert Service School in Dawson was highest, where 80 per cent of children didn’t show up to class. Absentee rates were also high, around 40 per cent, at Elijah Smith Elementary, Grey Mountain Primary, Selkirk Elementary, Eliza Van Bibber and St. Elias.

“Attendance levels in schools reflect what is happening in our communities. The current COVID-19 context presents a challenge for all, however, not all absences are COVID-related. We are currently experiencing extreme cold across the territory, and this is another challenge for families and communities,” said department communications analyst Krisandra Reid, in an email.

She noted that comparisons to January 2021 weren’t readily available.

Students weren’t the only ones unable to make it to class. At Robert Service school six out of 22 teachers were absent on Jan. 4. Hidden Valley school had five out of 16 teachers away, Jack Hulland had six out of 33 away.

Attendance data was unavailable for Porter Creek, Vanier and Takhini Secondary.

Throughout the day, many more businesses and organizations announced closures and cancellations for the day due to the cold weather.

— With files from Haley Ritchie

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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