Hamilton

Schools in Burlington and Haldimand County have COVID-19 cases after 1st week

Two days of class — that's all it took for and elementary school near Hagersville in Haldimand County. Meanwhile, a Burlington elementary school also has a COVID-19 case after just five days of class.

Brant Hills Public School in Burlington, Walpole North Elementary School near Hagersville have COVID-19 cases

A school near Hagersville and another in Burlington are dealing with individual cases of COVID-19, but won't say if the infected individuals are students or staff. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Two days of class — that's all it took for an elementary school near Hagersville in Haldimand County to get a positive case for COVID-19. Meanwhile, an elementary school in Burlington also has its first student case before the first day of school began.

Halton District School Board (HDSB) posted on Sunday that someone at Brant Hills Public School has the virus. On Monday, the board confirmed that the infected person is a student.

Principal Drew Donaldson sent a letter to families via email on Sunday.

"There is an exposure risk related to this case and a small cohort of high risk close contacts has been identified by Halton Region Public Health. This group has already been notified by Halton Region Public Health to self-isolate at home and not attend school," read the letter.

"Halton District School Board custodians have completed a disinfecting of our school. Brant Hills staff will work with students and families to ensure learning continues for those who are self-isolating."

In Haldimand County, Walpole North Elementary School principal Randy Ongena issued a letter to families on Sunday evening about its first case, noting that local public health notified him that afternoon.

"This individual has been directed by the health unit to self-isolate for 14 days, along with any siblings or family members who reside in the same household," reads his letter.

"The health unit has also been in direct contact with students, staff and families who have been deemed close contacts to this COVID-19 case. They, too, have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days. A close contact includes any students or staff in this individual's class, but may also include others."

The school will not reveal if the infected individual is a student or staff, despite Ontario providing that information in its own reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools.

"Understandably, for privacy reasons, this is all we can share with you," Kimberly Newhouse, a spokesperson for Grand Erie District School Board (GEDSB), wrote in an email Sunday night.

It's also unclear what kind of symptoms the infected people have or had, where and/or how they got the virus, how long they may have exposed others and how many people have to isolate.

Classes at the Walpole North started in a staggered format on Thursday, while HDSB started staggered classes on Monday, Sept. 14. The staggered start eases contact tracing when a COVID-19 case does pop up.

Ongena's letter said Walpole North will be open Monday for anyone not self-isolating.

"Grand Erie custodians have completed a disinfecting of our school," reads the letter.

"The individual who tested positive as well as all close contacts must complete their isolation period and be able to pass the COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool before returning to school."

A teacher at St. Thérèse of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board sprays sanitizer into a student's hands during the first week of school. In Haldimand County and Burlington, elementary schools are dealing with their first cases of COVID-19. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The news comes as classes around the area are welcoming students after months of empty classrooms.

Parents, educators and students have been stressed about returning due to a number of twists and turns to school plans this summer.

Hamilton's medical officer of health previously said COVID-19 cases in local schools were bound to happen, but emphasized "we shouldn't consider that a failure if that does happen because we are living in a world with COVID-19."

Educators and parents concerned

Health and Social Services Haldimand and Norfolk did not immediately respond for comment, but numerous GEDSB and HDSB educators and families reached out to CBC before opening day with fears about their safety and a lack of physical distancing.

"I love my job, but I'm terrified to go back ... over 30 students in my class, so physical distancing is literally impossible. " read one email from a GEDSB high school teacher.

An occasional teacher in HDSB and two other boards said, "I'm concerned that I will expose multiple schools/boards if I become ill," while another HDSB educator added, "The 'What Ifs' are endless and keep me up at night."

A parent of an elementary student in GEDSB also noted a "lack of clarity on what they are doing to keep elementary school students safe" while a parent of an HDSB kindergarten student wrote how they're "aching for him because he won't get the kindergarten experience we expected ... he won't even really know what his teacher looks like because her face will be covered."

GEDSB and HDSB didn't decrease class sizes or include mandatory masking for all students like Hamilton schools, but have other precautions including:

  • Mandatory masking for GEDSB students in Grades 4 to 12 and for all staff (staff also have to wear eye protection or face shields). HDSB has mandatory masking for students between Grades 1 to 12. 

  • Incorporating regular hand-washing and/or hand-sanitizing into the school day.

  • Adjusting HVAC systems in schools, opening windows and using fans to ventilate rooms.

  • Placing signs and arrows around school to encourage physical distancing.

  • Increasing cleaning and disinfecting of touch points, bathrooms and shared items.

Three local licensed child care centres/agencies also have cases of COVID-19: Le Ballon Rouge in Brantford has an infected staff member/provider, as does Waterdown District School Age Program – Guy Brown Location. McKinnon Park Child Care Centre in Caledonia has a child with the virus.

McMaster University has a graduate student and staff member with COVID-19.


Attention parents, students and teachers: We want to hear from you!

We hope you'll use this form to tell us about school conditions, how classes are going or whatever other pressing issues are on your mind this September in Hamilton, Niagara, St. Catharines and Burlington.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Halton District School Board started classes on Sept. 7. After noticing inconsistent information on the board's website, the story has been adjusted to reflect that classes started on Monday, Sept. 14.
    Sep 14, 2020 3:43 PM ET

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