Hamilton schools should be ready for possible ‘pivot’ to online learning after spring break

·3 min read

Hamilton’s top doctor is recommending that school boards prepare for a possible shift to remote learning after the April break.

Public health met with education directors on Wednesday.

“My advice to them is going to be that they prepare their students and their teachers as they go home at the end of this week for a possible pivot to online learning,” medical officer of health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson told city councillors Wednesday morning. “We do know that that is the thing that is mostly likely to change the transmission in our community and bring case counts down.”

In a news conference Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, upgrading the provincewide shutdown to a stay-at-home order.

This time, schools will remain open for in-person learning, with enhanced safety measures.

The province says schools and child-care centres will remain open “in public health regions where it is permitted,” according to an April 7 release.

Section 22 in the Health Protection and Promotion Act gives local medical officers of health the authority to order school closures in their region.

Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, some school boards — including Peel, Toronto and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph — have closed schools in the week leading up to April break.

As of Wednesday, schools in Hamilton remain open. Both the public and Catholic board say there has been no indication that there will be a shift to remote learning in the coming days.

In an email to The Spectator, Richardson said public health “continues to closely monitor the local situation as it relates to COVID-19 in the community and the effect locally of the province’s recently announced stay-at-home order.”

“We know that what happens in schools reflects what is happening in the community and that’s why it’s vital all community members in Hamilton, even those who have been vaccinated, ensure that public health measures are still being practised,” she said.

Richardson said public health plans to decide “sometime next week” whether students will return to classrooms on April 19.

Unions representing teachers at Hamilton’s public and Catholic boards say they are frustrated by the lack of “definitive leadership in a time of crisis.”

“I’m not sure what public health or the HWDSB are waiting for at this time,” Jeff Sorensen, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local union, said in an email to The Spectator. “It feels like each wants the other to make the call and wear the decision.”

Daryl Jerome, president of the local bargaining unit for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said he is hopeful Richardson will act if numbers “either don’t decrease or continue to increase.”

“The members I have spoken to are concerned with the rise in cases in Hamilton,” he said. “Until there is a concrete plan in place from this government they would prefer to be as safe as possible and ... remote learning appears to be the only option to ensure their safety.”

A union representative for the Hamilton-Wentworth chapter of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said “we should be closing schools in Hamilton immediately.”

“Why wait?” Nick de Koning said in an email. “How many more cases are we waiting for?”

Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator