Back to school in Hamilton: Here's the public school board's latest plan for reopening

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Hamilton's public schools are four weeks away from reopening and this week, the board shared a third update to their plans for welcoming students back safely.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) held an emergency meeting Monday (August 10) to discuss the upcoming school year.

One of the more notable changes to the latest plan is the options for remote learners, particularly elementary students. Parents and students who opt to learn online will have a teacher dedicated specifically for remote learning.

Also, students enrolled can go in and/or out of the Remote Learning School on specific dates: October 13, January 4 and March 22. In previous plans, students would have the option to rejoin the in-class environment with five-days notice.

Peter Sovran, Associate Director of Education, Learning Services, who provided an overview of the new plan to trustees on Monday night, explained that this change is in accordance with Ministry of Education requirements and noted that the return of students to in-class learning required some reorganization of classrooms to accommodate so it was felt to be more efficient and safe to offer several specific dates for point of entry.

"Should extraordinary circumstances arise in-between these transition point dates parents may contact the Superintendent of Student Achievement to explore alternatives," the report states.

Parents and guardians of elementary school students will be required to register their child for remote or in-class learning starting next Monday (August 17). The HWDSB says that from August 17 to August 21 parents are required to indicate their choice.

Secondary students who opt for remote learning are asked to contact their school between August 31 and September 4.

At the same time, parents will be asked to sign an attestation, a document, developed in consultation with Hamilton Public Health Services (PHS) outlining the screening criteria and symptoms that would require a student to remain at home and/or be required to learn the school along with necessary steps needed prior to return.

A signed attestation is mandatory for students' to return to school.

There has been no change in elementary school class sizes at this point in time.

"There is funding to support the hiring of additional teachers, where needed, on an application basis," the HWDSB report notes.

"This funding will not allow the Board to significantly reduce class sizes. If the Board were to adjust elementary class sizes to 15 students per class, it would require approximately 900 additional classroom teachers and this would cost approximately $76 million. The total funding envelope for this province is $30 million."

As a result, Board trustees directed staff on Monday to continue to work with the Ministry of Education to provide full funding to achieve lower elementary class sizes that average 15 students for Kindergarten to grade 3 and 20 students for grades 4 to 8.

In the latest update, the HWDSB encourages parents of students in grades lower than 4 to get their child used to wearing a mask and encourages the practice, if possible, in schools. Students in grades 4 to 12 are still required to wear a mask at all times.

Medical masks and eye protection (face shields), will also be provided to teachers and staff, who are required to wear them all the time.

Here are some more highlights from the most recent back-to-school update:

For elementary students

  • Conventional return to school where students attend every day
  • Enhanced public health measures (outlined below), including mask wearing for students grades 4-8 and optional for students K-3
  • Bell times do not change
  • Students will stay with their class for the day, including nutrition breaks
  • Outdoor play and recess will continue
  • Devices used during the closure will be collected

For secondary students

  • Adaptive return to school, alternate day rotational model (in-person and remote learning)
  • Students attend 145 minutes in-person based on their cohort (A or B) on either Monday, Wednesday and alternate Fridays or Tuesdays, Thursdays and alternate Fridays.
  • Following an 80-minute transitional time, students will engage in 3, 40-minute periods of remote learning (adjustments for 5 period day schools)
  • Enhanced public health measures (outlined below), including mask-wearing
  • All students will have access to a 1:1 device

For Remote Learning School
Grades K-8

  • Full instructional day of learning from a dedicated teacher(s)
  • Standardized digital learning environments (The Hub and MS TEAMS)
  • Students enrolled can go in and/or out of the Remote Learning School - dates include October 13, January 4 and March 22

Grades 9-12

  • eLearning courses available for those wanting to learn remote only
  • Students can contact their school between August 31 and September 4 to explore timetable changes

HWDSB plans to hire more caretaking staff to support increased sanitization standards -- the report notes that funding allows for 22 more caretaking staff to be hired.

There will also be hand sanitizing stations throughout schools and water fountains will be bagged and off-limits. Instead, water bottle filling stations will be available.

At the meeting on Monday, trustees were informed that outbreak protocols were still in the works and were a collaboration between school boards, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and public health and will be available in the next few weeks.

Elements of the Outbreak Protocol are expected to include:

  • Case Management including Contact Tracing
  • Exclusion Criteria
  • Declaring an Outbreak and Implementing Control Measures
  • Communication between the school/board and Public Health

"With four weeks remaining prior to the first day of class for students, there is an urgency to act on several areas," reads a letter sent to parents on Tuesday and signed by Board chair Alex Johnstone and director of education Manny Figueiredo.

"As we prepare for our reopening, we want to hear from you. If you have questions or need help finding information, please email info [at] hwdsb [dot] on [dot] ca or call 905-527-5092. Follow us on social media for highlights of this update."

The Board report from Monday's meeting, which contains much greater detail about plans can be found here.

The HWDSB plans to more emergency meetings to discuss back to school measures and promises to remain in contact with parents to provide timely updates.

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