Internet outage causes hiccups for Hamilton students returning to school remotely

·3 min read

Some Hamilton schools got off to a rocky start this week as an internet outage on Tuesday kept hundreds of students from accessing their new online classrooms.

The outage coincided with the first day of school at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, where students will participate in remote learning for the first weeks of January as the province tries to curb the spread of COVID-19.

For some families, difficulties with internet providers like Cogeco, Rogers and Bell left students taking the day off in the hopes of returning to class on Wednesday, while others with access to the internet were able to attend the first day back.

The HWDSB, which spent Monday distributing nearly 6,600 remote learning devices to the families that requested them, told parents on Tuesday that students would not be penalized for missing the first day due to the outage.

Sarah Cordova, the mother of a seven-year-old girl enrolled in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, said they were unable to access remote classes through their internet provider, Cogeco, on Tuesday.

“We’re sitting in the living room, waiting for the internet to come back while I lose the opportunity to work,” Cordova told The Spectator on Tuesday while the outage was ongoing.

A single mother working part-time, Cordova said she took the day off on Tuesday to supervise her daughter as she returns to her Grade 2 classes. She relied on in-person enrolment before the holiday break to occupy her daughter while Cordova worked and completed a post-secondary degree.

“It’s difficult now. I don’t have the privilege of staying home and helping my daughter go through online learning without losing income. I’m not sure what will happen if this continues,” she said.

The province has said that elementary students will be allowed to return to in-person classes on Jan. 11 while secondary students will wait until Jan. 25. At both Hamilton school boards, exceptions have been made for students with special needs to attend in-person schooling earlier.

At a news conference in mid-December, Premier Doug Ford said, “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.”

Hamilton’s Catholic board began classes on Jan. 4. Patrick Daly, chair of the HWCDSB, said the reopening was relatively calm despite a few issues.

“There were some obvious glitches in terms of students gaining access to their class and all that, but that’s to be expected. Overall, from what I heard, the day went well,” said Daly.

“There were a number of challenges today as a result of the outages but many of our students weren’t impacted.”

By 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Cogeco announced internet service had resumed. According to downdetector.ca, the outage impacted a large portion of southern Ontario as well as the regions surrounding Kingston and Ottawa.

Some parents said they were not affected by the outage and experienced a well-managed first day of school with their children.

“The only hiccup we faced was trying to figure out how to turn on the sound during classes, which is totally a user issue and not the school’s fault,” said Dana Tee, the mother of a Grade 12 student at the HWCDSB.

“Although their website was down for the better part of yesterday, it was working fine today.”

Jacob Lorinc, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator