Hamilton parents in the lurch again as Ontario’s schools move online indefinitely

·3 min read

When Lindsay Johnson’s 11-year-old daughter, an only child, found out she wouldn’t be going back to her Grade 6 classroom after the April break, she cried.

“She loves her teacher, loves her friends,” her mother said. “When the schools were closed down the first time she was having meltdowns every day.”

During the last remote learning period, Johnson, who is also a student at Mohawk College, quit her job to help her daughter with school.

“I have to basically sit with her to make sure things get done,” she said. “We find that when it’s online, there’s more work.”

In a news conference on Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that students across the province would move to remote learning indefinitely after the delayed spring break this week.

“Bringing our kids back to a congregate setting in school after a week off in the community is a risk that I won’t take,” Ford said.

For the first time since January, Hamilton has more than 1,000 active cases.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said boards “will be directed to provide continued in-person support for students with special education needs who cannot learn remotely.”

The announcement comes a day after the minister wrote in a letter to parents that the province’s “priority remains keeping school safe and open for in-class instruction.”

Last week, the province said schools would remain open amid the four-week, provincewide stay-at-home order unless local public health authorities order otherwise. Hamilton’s medical officer of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, was expected to decide this week whether she would close Hamilton schools.

“As a single mom it’s so hard to not only be the only source of income, but to add being here to keep structure to her day,” Kim Primeau, who has a seven-year-old daughter in French immersion at Parkdale Elementary School in east Hamilton, wrote in an email. “It takes its toll.”

Some parents also expressed concern over rising school case counts, which are at their highest.

Since the beginning of April, boards have reported a total of 167 cases — 108 public and 59 Catholic. More than half — 50 schools — in the public board have had at least one COVID-19 case this month. There are currently 19 schools in the Catholic board with confirmed cases.

“If this is what helps protect our children, I am all for it,” said Lindsey Williams, who has three kids in elementary school in the public board — Grade 8, Grade 6 and Grade 1. “It’s frustrating, but you kind of got to roll with it.”

During the last remote learning period, her husband was off with an injury and was able to supervise the kids in their virtual classrooms. This time, neither Williams nor her husband — essential workers who cannot work from home — can stay home.

“I can’t essentially ask my fourteen-year-old or my 11-year-old to learn online and try to keep ahold of their brother online,” she said. “At this point, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

In an April 12 letter to parents, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board said more information would be available “in the next couple of days.”

“As disappointed as I am for parents and students and staff in terms of the challenges this once again creates, I’m pleased that they announced it early, so that people can make plans,” said chair Pat Daly.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board issued its own letter with details about the transition to remote learning.

“This has been a confusing time for our families, our staff, as we’ve heard over and over from the government that schools will stay open only to hear a different message a day later in this case,” said chair Dawn Danko.

The province gave no time frame as to when in-person learning might resume.

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator