Extended school closure ‘predictable,’ says Hamilton teachers’ union rep

·3 min read

Hamilton’s elementary schools will remain closed to in-person attendance for two more weeks as the province extends its lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario.

Schools across southern Ontario are now poised to reopen on Jan. 25 instead of Jan. 11, as initially planned, the province announced on Thursday.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Chief medical officer David Williams indicated that widespread community transmission across southern Ontario and rising cases of COVID-19 among young people informed the decision.

“We have to defer in-class attendance for the next two weeks because we want the schools to stay open when we’re able to reopen them,” Williams said.

The province says it hopes that by closing schools for two additional weeks it can avoid having to close schools after they reopen due to continued community spread.

The government announced the first closures midway through December, shortly after schools let out for the holidays. The measures prompted Hamilton’s boards to prepare for districtwide remote learning when schools reopened in the new year.

Since Jan. 4, nearly all students enrolled at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) and the Catholic board have participated in online classes, with the exception of some students with special needs.

During this period, child-care centres, recreational skill-building programs and home-based child services have remained open.

Dawn Danko, chair of the HWDSB, said she agrees with the province’s decision given the rapid increase in cases in Hamilton.

“When you think about the transmission rate right now, it’s clear that the risk of COVID-19 coming into schools is that much higher than it was in December,” Danko said.

Throughout the holidays, the school board delivered nearly 6,600 remote-learning devices to families who had previously indicated their children would not be equipped with a computer should schools be shuttered. In the first days back to class, students and staff alike grappled with their new iPads and various technology as they became acquainted with learning at home.

Danko said the board is prepared to continue offering remote learning to all students should schools remain closed past Jan. 25, but said that, in a meeting with the Ministry of Education on Thursday, officials from Queen’s Park expressed certainty that schools would reopen no later than Jan. 25.

“It seems like the intent really is to get students back in class by Jan. 25,” Danko said.

The ministry also indicated to Ontario school boards that it would soon distribute new funding for ventilation, personal protective equipment and asymptomatic testing to help schools support in-person learning, Danko said.

The province has not spoken publicly about this funding.

Daryl Jerome, president of the local bargaining unit for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Association, described the newly imposed lockdowns as “unfortunately, predictable due to the failure of this government to set a benchmark of what level of community spread is appropriate to close or reopen schools.”

“Without this, the government will continue with these 11th-hour announcements which result in parents, myself included, who are completely exasperated with this failure of leadership,” Jerome said.

Several teachers are still working inside schools this week to teach students, he said.

“The latest announcement does not address this and I am very concerned for the ongoing health and safety of these members in light of the steadily increasing case counts,” he said.

Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator