Hamilton schools tell students to take belongings home for winter break to prepare for possible closures

·3 min read

Hamilton school boards are preparing for the possibility of school closures after the winter break following a Wednesday memo from Ontario’s Ministry of Education telling students to take their belongings home in case of a sudden switch to online learning.

“Students should bring home all personal items from school prior to the break,” read a message to families from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board on Wednesday evening. The Catholic board sent out similar messaging, reminding students of the need to be ready for “all scenarios.”

The boards do not have the ability to shutter schools without permission from the ministry or Hamilton Public Health Services, who are tasked with deciding which schools stay open and closed.

Neither department has indicated it will move schools to remote learning after the winter break, but the prospect has been raised as COVID-19 cases climb in Hamilton and across the province.

The message from the ministry to school boards came as Ontario surpassed 4,000 deaths from COVID-19 and hospitals raced to clear beds for more pandemic patients. The province reported that the virus killed another 45 people on Wednesday, including 18 in nursing homes, for a total of 4,035 since the pandemic began.

Hamilton reported 162 new cases on Thursday, the highest new case count reported in the region, as well as four more deaths. There are now 853 active cases in the city and brings the total case count to 4,567 and 127 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Six outbreaks have been reported in Hamilton schools, with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board currently reporting 14 active cases in students and five in staff across 11 schools.

The province is reporting 48 cases among students and staff in the HWDSB.

The HWDSB said it will keep families updated on the status of schools during the break.

“We will inform families through a School Messenger notification should a change in our learning models be required,” the board wrote.

“Should there be a need to pivot schools to remote in the new year, we will engage our Remote Readiness Plan for elementary schools similar to what was done last spring.”

Both school boards surveyed families early in November to see how prepared they are to have their children learn remotely in case of school closures. In that time, both have bolstered their inventory of technological devices and other needs to pass on to families if necessary.

The HWDSB said it’s increasing its inventory of devices through those “reassigned from other areas in the board, returned devices not being used, and new purchases.”

In November, HWCDSB chair Pat Daly told The Spec that the board has prepared for the possible switch to remote learning since September.

“We’ve been looking at technology, the various types of devices we’d need — like iPads, computers, that kind of thing — for both staff and students to make sure we have enough stock in case we move to complete closure,” Daly said.

“We’re making sure our staff would be comfortable and ready if we were to move online again.”

Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator