With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is asking families to prepare themselves in case of school closures.
On Friday, the board sent a survey to all families to assess their “remote learning preparedness,” asking them to consider if they have all the tools and resources necessary for their children to work comfortably from home.
The board has no immediate plans to close schools, but sent the survey to families just in case.
COVID-19 cases have been steadily on the rise in Hamilton since early October, threatening more closures and shutdowns in the coming weeks.
The city reported a surge of cases over the last three days that increased by a record 185 positive tests — 46 on Saturday, 72 on Sunday and 67 on Monday. There have now been a total of 2,184 cases in Hamilton since the outset of the pandemic.
On Monday, the city was on track to reach ‘Orange’ alert level, which is one alert level above yellow and involves more restrictions.
Shawn McKillop, the board’s spokesperson, said the Ministry of Education asked school boards to check-in with families about remote learning preparedness in case of closures.
“We were informed by the Ministry through a memo from the Assistant Deputy Minister on Oct. 14 with subsequent timelines to accomplish this outreach and readiness,” Mckillop said.
Sarah Neil-Sztramko, an infectious disease expert at McMaster University, says the board is right to prepare for remote learning in case of closures but that the schools are not the source of the problem.
“Although the climbing case numbers in Hamilton is very concerning, when we look at the number of cases in schools and daycares we see that the numbers are still quite low,” Neil-Sztramko said.
“There have been very few outbreaks in schools, and the few outbreaks that have occurred are mostly linked to teachers and adults rather than students. It’s not like the students are immune, but the numbers tell us that the measurements in place have been working really well.”
Hamilton school boards have reported a small handful of outbreaks in schools, none of which have resulted in school closures.
As of Monday, Hamilton schools and childcare centres had reported a total of 31 COVID-19 cases. The vast majority of cases are transmitted outside the school setting and pose a low risk to the school community.
“It doesn’t make sense to shut down schools if they haven’t been driving transmission; it makes sense to shut down or place restrictions on the places responsible for transmissions — bars, restaurants, long-term care facilities,” Neil-Sztramko said.
HWDSB families have been given until Wednesday at midnight to fill out the board’s survey on remote learning.
McKillop told the Spectator that the board will likely present some of the survey’s findings at an upcoming public meeting.
Jacob Lorinc's reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows him to report on stories about education.
Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator