Hamilton students will be starting the new year online

·3 min read

Hamilton schools will begin the new year using remote learning technology as students and staff stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, the province announced lockdowns across Ontario including in most school districts. In Hamilton, elementary schools will remain closed until Jan. 11, 2021, while secondary schools will remain closed until Jan. 25, 2021. All students will be enrolled in remote learning in the meantime.

“Asking students and staff to stay home a little longer will help ensure we do what’s needed to control the spread. These are decisions that are extremely difficult but critical,” Premier Doug Ford said on Monday.

During this period, child-care centres, authorized recreational and skill-building programs, as well as home-based child-care services will stay open, the province said. From Jan. 4 to 8, before and after school programs will be closed, but emergency child care for health-care and front-line workers will be offered. The province said boards will be required to make exceptions for in-person support for students with special education needs where possible.

“While our schools are not a source of rising community transmission, we can play an important part of the solution to save lives from COVID-19,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said. “During this period, students will pivot to teacher-led online learning, with child care provided for our front-line workers. We are taking proactive and preventive action to protect schools following the holiday break to ensure kids can continue in-class learning — something we believe is so important — for the remainder of the year.”

Though the holiday break has begun, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) is now scrambling to ensure students are equipped with remote learning technology for Jan. 4.

Board chair Dawn Danko told the Spec that some staff have been recalled to schools to check their inventory and distribute devices to families in need.

After conducting a survey in November, the board determined that at least 6,000 students will need a computer or iPad in the event of school closures.

“You can imagine this would be a lot easier to do if we were still in school right now,” said Danko. “But since schools are closed, staff have been pulled back and are working on a way to get these devices to families.”

Danko said the board will release more information in the coming days about how families can pick up devices for their children before the start of school.

The board is waiting on device shipments as well, Danko said, and does not yet have the number of devices necessary to support every student.

“We need to do our best to get devices in the hands of every student possible and we’re close to having that number,” she told the Spec on Monday.

In a post on its website, the HWDSB said it would continue to allow students with special needs to learn in-person.

“As part of Ontario’s efforts to protect the most vulnerable, HWDSB will continue to make provisions for continued in-person support for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated through remote learning for whom remote learning is challenging,” the board wrote.

Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator