Hamilton

Hamilton elementary students in class every day, highschoolers online half time: province

Hamilton's elementary schools will be as close to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic will allow, but high schools will take a 50/50 approach between online and in-class learning.

School boards will need to be ready to switch plans and either tighten or loosen restrictions as needed

Students line up outside a school in Germany. In Hamilton, elementary schools will have students in-class five days a week for the full day. High school students will have a 50/50 split between in-class and online learning. (Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images)

Hamilton's elementary schools will be as close to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic will allow, but high schools will take a 50/50 approach between online and in-class learning.

Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce unveiled the plan for opening schools in the fall on Thursday, as students, parents, teachers, school boards and unions have waited weeks for an update.

The reaction has been mixed, with praise toward some parts of the plan like mandatory masking for students Grade 4 and up, but also concerns about a number of logistical gaps and unanswered questions that may make teaching and learning hard.

Elementary students in kindergarten through Grade 8 will attend school five days per week, with one cohort for the full day, including recess and lunch. Enhanced health and safety protocols will be in place and school boards will provide the full range of elementary curriculum. 

High schools will emphasize cohorting students as much as possible, to limit the number of student-to-student contacts. Hamilton and Niagara high schools will place students in groups of roughly 15 who will sit in classrooms every other day Monday to Thursday with alternating Fridays. Boards will need to ensure half of all the student's school days are in the classroom.

High schools in Brant County and Haldimand and Norfolk Counties, as well as most other areas in Ontario, will be permitted to open with daily attendance by students. Hamilton high schools are among the group with greater restrictions along with schools in Niagara, Toronto, York, Durham, London, Peel, Halton, Waterloo, Ottawa and Windsor.

Mandatory masks from Grade 4 and up

Students in grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear a non-medical mask or cloth face covering while at school. Younger children will be encouraged, but not required, to do so. Medical masks will be provided for teachers and other staff. 

Parents will decide if they want their child to attend classes or learn from home. Students with a high level of special education needs are allowed to go to school daily. 

When the academic year begins, schools can offer clubs and organized sports if social distancing is possible and spaces are cleaned and disinfected between each use, the Ministry of Education says.

"When it comes to keeping our kids safe, I won't take any unnecessary risks," said Premier Doug Ford at his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday afternoon.

WATCH | Ford says school will look and feel a lot like it used to in September:

Premier Doug Ford says school will look and feel a lot like it used to in September, with five days a week of in-class learning, though there are some exceptions. 2:32

The announcement from the Ministry of Education comes just six weeks before back-to-school season and a week before the deadline the province's 72 school boards were initially given to outline their plans for the academic year.

The province also said the reopening will include a new school health monitoring system through the ministries of Health and Education, school boards and local public health.

Any staff or student with COVID-19 symptoms will be separated from others. Anyone who tests positive can't return to school until public health clears them and those who test negative must be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning.

Schools must inform parents of COVID-19 testing locations and also keep records of classes, transported students, and visitors.

It is important to note that school boards must be ready to switch strategies, which means there is still a chance schools may have to revert to more cautious plans, or that high schools will have restrictions eased.

Mixed reaction from parents

Bailey Patterson, who has a daughter entering Grade 8 and a son in kindergarten in Niagara, said the news was a sigh of "immense relief."

She said it will help parents go back to work while students learn in school. She said her kids also look forward to seeing their friends.

"They really miss the social impact they've lived without for the last four to five months," Patterson explained.

Meanwhile, Carrie Germon, a Hamilton parent of a daughter in Grade 11 and another in Grade 6, is "baffled" at the decision to have elementary students attend school daily but not high school students.

"So they can put 25 kids in a class, but not 25 high school kids in a class that understand more about being spaced out? You can't space out 25 elementary kids in a classroom," she argued. "Elementary school now is basically a glorified daycare, it's frightening."

She's considering keeping her kids at home.

Teachers have questions about fall

Joe Cappadocia, a teacher at Cathedral High School in Hamilton, said the biggest issue has been a lack of information about the school year he's preparing to teach. Based on what he knows now, Cappadocia said the year will be "extremely difficult," noting that online learning leads most students to struggle.

"It doesn't work for 50 to 60 per cent of the students from my experience," he said.

Other concerns included whether the school boards have the right technology for online learning, how much the necessary safety measures will impact class time and if teachers will have to use their own money to implement extra safeguards.

Zoe Branigan-Pipe, a special education itinerant teacher in Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said more staff will be key to pulling off school during a pandemic, especially if faculty need to teach online students and in-class students at the same time.

"I don't think they're going to be able to manage both. I'm a little worried about that. None of us have gone through a pandemic before. Our baseline stress is going to be up."

Unions and boards say plan has gaps

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said in a series of tweets that the government did not involve the union when it assembled its back-to-school strategy. 

"We were not consulted, nor were we given an advance look at the plan," he tweeted.

"[Ford and Lecce] have completely ignored education workers in this plan. One educator per cohort? What about the educational assistants who work 1-on-1 with students? The early childhood educators in kindergarten classrooms?"

Part of the provincial announcement included a $309 million investment into the plan, including:

  • $60 million for masks and personal protective equipment.
  • $80 million for staffing.
  • $25 million for cleaning supplies.
  • $10 million for health and safety training.
  • $40 million for cleaning supplies and PPE for the school transportation system.
  • $23.7 million for lab testing capacity.
  • $50 million for additional public health nurses.
  • $10 million for mental health supports.
  • $10 million for students with special needs.

Teachers, school boards and unions say the money and the plan don't go far enough.

"There's no additional funding announced for transportation, something boards and parents had been vocal about," Alex Johnstone, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair, said.

She also wonders how much of this money Hamilton will receive and hopes parents will be patient if boards are forced to impose more COVID-19 restrictions.

Nick de Koning, the local Ontario English Catholic Teacher's Association president for Hamilton-Wentworth, said parts of the plan seem impractical, like the hiring and training of 500 nurses for the start of the school year. He says the new custodial hires also aren't enough.

Sergio Cacoilo, who represents high schools in the same board, agreed with those concerns. He feels a major gap is special education.

"When you're working with autistic children, they can be very aggressive, they'll rip off whatever PPE you're wearing. They'll spit, they bite. Where are the resources?" he wonders.

The other large gap he sees is how enforceable mandatory masking in schools is and what kind of disciplinary measures administrators can take when students don't wear face coverings.

Pat Daly said the good news is boards can now finalize their plans and move forward mandatory masking. He hoped high school students would get five days of in-class school but said "we see the wisdom in the more cautious approach."

Here's a breakdown of what school will look like in Hamilton:

Hamilton public elementary schools

  • Students will attend school five days a week.

  • The length and structure of the school day will be as close to normal as possible.

  • Schools will avoid having students move between classes.

  • Each school will decide how it uses entry and exit doors, nutrition and recess breaks and spaces like the gym or school yard to minimize large groups.

  • Students will remain in their assigned classrooms for the entire school day, including nutrition breaks unless they are in a specialized space (like the gym or the school yard).

  • Teachers will meet with students in the student assigned classroom instead of students going to them.

  • Temporary barriers, signs and markings around the school will also promote and facilitate physical distancing. There will also be regular handwashing breaks.

  • Schools are developing protocols for shared equipment like musical instruments, physical education equipment.

Hamilton public high schools

  • Students will have an alternate day rotational model that will combine face-to-face learning in school and online learning.

  •  Students will be placed into groups of roughly 15.

  • They will learn in classrooms every other day Monday to Thursday with alternating Fridays.

  • Students in class would sit six feet apart and when students aren't in school, they would use e-learning.

  • Students in class will have a morning face-to-face session with a teacher while the rest of the day would be online or pre-recorded.

  • Students can choose to go home for the rest of the day.

  • Temporary barriers, signs and markings around the school will also promote and facilitate physical distancing. There will also be regular handwashing breaks.

  • The schools are developing protocols for shared equipment like musical instruments, physical education equipment.

  • There may be changes to lunch locations, staggered travel times between periods, and limits on extracurricular activities, co-op programs, dual credits and alternative learning.

Hamilton Catholic elementary schools

  • Students will attend school five days a week.

  • The length and structure of the school day will be as close to normal as possible.

  • Schools will avoid having students move between classes.

  • Each school will decide how it uses entry and exit doors, nutrition and recess breaks and spaces like the gym or school yard to minimize large groups.

  • Students will remain in their assigned classrooms for the entire school day, including nutrition breaks unless they are in a specialized space (like the gym or the school yard).

  • Teachers will meet with students in the student assigned classroom instead of students going to them.

  • Temporary barriers, signs and markings around the school will also promote and facilitate physical distancing. There will also be regular handwashing breaks.

  • The schools are developing protocols for shared equipment like musical instruments, physical education equipment.

Hamilton Catholic high schools

HWCDSB is taking a quadmester approach.

  • Students will have an alternate day rotational model that will combine face-to-face learning in school and online learning.

  •  Students will be placed into groups of roughly 15.

  • They will learn in classrooms every other day Monday to Thursday with alternating Fridays.

  • Students in class would sit six feet apart and when students aren't in school, they would use e-learning.

  • Students in class will have a morning class face-to-face session with a teacher while the rest of the day would be online or pre-recorded.

  • Students can choose to go home for the rest of the day.

  • The semester will be divided into 4 blocks of 23 days.

  • Each block will represent one course and students will earn the credit at the end of the 23-day block.

  • There will be no exam days in January (an exam will happen, if necessary, at the end of each block of 23 days).

  • Temporary barriers, signs and markings around the school will also promote and facilitate physical distancing.

  • The school is developing protocols for shared equipment like musical instruments, physical education equipment.

  • There may be changes to lunch locations, staggered travel times between periods, and limits on extracurricular activities, co-op programs, dual credits and alternative learning.

What if there's an outbreak?

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says it is working with the Catholic board and public health but say an outbreak could cause schools to close and go into fully online learning.

HWDSB also says parents will have to screen children daily and will pickup their children from school if they are sick.


Read the provincial government's briefing document on back-to-school plans:

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About the Author

Bobby Hristova

Reporter/Editor

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

with files from CBC News

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