Some answers to questions behind Hamilton’s snow day policy

He was on his way to work at Memorial Public School in Hamilton almost 35 years ago when his car collided with a transport truck on Highway 2.

Liam O’Hare, 34, was killed on an icy section of the road just east of Ancaster on March 5, 1985.

The husband and father of two lived in Brantford, but had been teaching at the Hamilton school since the previous September, and at George L. Armstrong Elementary School before that.

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  • The story behind Hamilton’s snow day policy

The Spectator has heard from a flood of people who pointed to O’Hare’s tragic death after an article ran on the story behind the Hamilton public school board’s snow day policy last week.

The board has said the policy stems from the death of a teacher in the 1980s, and it comes up every time there’s a big snowfall — more often this year because of the high number of snow days in Hamilton.

The local elementary teachers’ union has praised the “very unique” policy, noting it respects the lives and health of teachers, as well as students.

According to stories in The Spectator from the time, O’Hare taught physical education and Grade 7 at the Main Street East school, and had become a favourite among pupils and teachers alike.

Retired teacher Beth Hunter taught with O’Hare at Memorial.

She remembers school closing at noon the day before the crash, which was a PA day, but having reopened the day he was killed.

That is echoed in Environment Canada historical weather data, which shows 14 millimetres of rain and 10 centimetres of snow fell March 4, 1985, compared to 2.8 centimetres of snow the day of the crash.

Hunter recalled principal Wilfred Forde calling teachers to the staff room over the school’s public address system once class had been dismissed for the day.

“It was very solemn,” she remembered.

Once there, they learned the tragic news, which they shared with students the following day.

A memorial award was started to honour O’Hare’s memory, she recalled.

What remains unclear is whether the board’s policy, which stipulates that schools close if buses are cancelled, came as a direct result of O’Hare’s tragic death.

A Spectator editorial from 2006 says the policy had been in place since the 1998 amalgamation of the urban Hamilton school board and the rural-based Wentworth County school board.

And the Wentworth County board already had that policy in place prior to amalgamation, according to a 1988 Spectator story.

“When the buses can’t run, we close the schools,” the board’s transport and planning manager said at the time.

But O’Hare worked for the former Hamilton board.

A 2006 Spectator story says the linkage of the policies came after the board long had a zoned-closure policy, where bus-reliant areas might close but inner-city schools could stay open.

npaddon@thespec.com

905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec