The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says elementary classes might not start as scheduled after the holiday break if the board cannot distribute remote learning technology on time.
In an interview with The Spectator, HWDSB director Manny Figueiredo said the board is still waiting on a shipment of at least 1,000 devices for the roughly 6,000 elementary students who need them to learn remotely when schools begin virtually on Jan. 4.
The board is also rushing to distribute their inventory of iPads and computers to families following the province’s announcement on Monday that schools would be shuttered come January, prompting concern among teachers and staff that not all students will be able to collect their devices in time.
Though remote classes are supposed to begin Jan. 4, Figueiredo says the board might wait if there are still devices outstanding.
“We have to see how things look by Jan. 4,” Figeuiredo told The Spectator on Dec. 23. “We’re working on getting these devices to families right now — but, Jan. 4, there might not be full remote learning on the very first day if we still have to get devices to people.”
The province’s decision to apply further lockdown measures across the province extends to schools, where teachers and staff have been instructed to provide remote learning to students when the second semester begins.
Elementary schools are supposed to offer remote learning between Jan. 4 and 11, while secondary schools are supposed to provide remote learning until Jan. 25. As of the Dec. 21’s announcement, the schools will be allowed to reopen following those dates.
Figueiredo said the announcement prompted the HWDSB to recall school staff and principals following the beginning of the holiday break last Friday to prepare for remote learning. The staff have been tasked with assessing their schools’ inventory of devices and making arrangements to distribute them to families.
Had the board known about the lockdown measures before school let out, Figueiredo says it would have been easier to send students home with devices, though some complications would have remained. The roughly 6,000 students who indicated they need devices are not evenly spread out among HWDSB schools; there are more in some schools than in others, and not all schools were immediately prepared to meet those students’ needs.
Part of the staff’s task, now, is to distribute devices to the schools that need them most before sending them off to families.
The new array of tasks has created a flurry of work for staff, Figueiredo said.
“While I told staff to take a break and catch their breath at the end of this semester, as of Monday (Dec. 23) I had to pull a team together and tell them we’ve got to get principals, IT staff, the communications team, and bring them back to work again during the break,” he said.
“We’re collecting devices, cleaning them, assigning them to schools based on need, and then deploying them to families.”
The delay in remote learning would not apply to secondary students, all of whom already have devices to use, Figueiredo said.
Hamilton’s school boards surveyed families early in November to determine their preparedness should schools close down. The results were used to determine what the boards might have to provide families in need.
Pat Daly, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, says the Catholic board is fully prepared to begin remote classes on Jan. 4 and have already provided devices to the families that indicated a need in their November survey.
“I do not want to suggest that others might not come forward (with needs),” Daly said in an email. “We will respond as quickly as possible when requests come forward.”
Daly said staff at the HWCDSB have also been tasked with preparing for remote learning.
“We will be prepared to start Jan. 4 but don’t want to suggest perfection in every remote classroom. Where there are technological or other issues I know efforts to improve will happen right away.”
Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator