Hamilton and area schools to start 2021 in remote learning, province says

Hamilton schools will begin the new year learning from home, the province says.

Elementary students will learn remotely until Jan. 11, high school students until Jan. 25

Schools will begin the new year doing remote learning as the province tries to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Schools in Hamilton and surrounding area will begin the new year learning from home, the province says.

Hamilton students will learn remotely starting on Jan. 4. Elementary students will begin learning in-person again on Jan. 11 while high school students will start in-class learning on Jan. 25.

Premier Doug Ford said on Monday that "schools are not part of the problem" as COVID-19 continues to spread in communities, but decided to make the move "out of an abundance of caution."

"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 they're absolutely critical," he said during a media briefing.

The province teased extending the winter break weeks ago, but then backed off. Then, it hinted at an extended winter break late last week.

The news also follows the announcement of a province-wide shutdown and comes as COVID-19 cases and outbreaks continue to appear in Hamilton schools.

Families shouldn't 'expect perfection'

Dawn Danko, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, wishes the announcement came a week or two ago.

"This is not a surprise, the number are not a surprise ... I do welcome the focus on student safety, staff safety and community safety, but this decision needed to be made earlier. We really need to have some leadership on this," she said on Monday afternoon.

"They're now asking our board and boards across Ontario to go into deployment mode for devices, to have people prepare for a different way of teaching and learning for the first day back in January while the entire system is technically on a break."

Danko said some staff will work over the break to be ready to deploy devices and ready for the start of the new year, but will have to contend with less access to students and families. The devices will be cleaned before they are given to families.

"We're looking at trying to set up a day where families could pick up devices if they've identified a need some time in the next week and we would likely also have some pick-up options for Jan. 4 because we recognize not every family is going to be able to access one pick-up day," she said.

Danko said the board is also trying to better understand what the province is expecting class and learning to look like on Jan. 4. She's also wondering if the Ministry of Education will fund the extra staff time needed over the break to prepare for remote learning.

Hamilton school boards will be handing out devices to families so they can learn remotely in January. (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

Pat Daly, chairperson for the Catholic board, said on Monday he doesn't lay blame on the province for waiting until now to make the call and he called the remote learning in January a "prudent decision." Though, he, like Danko, also acknowledges it will be a challenge for families and the board.

"We all understand and appreciate the concern, the disruption that this will be for parents, students and staff but saying that, again ... we all need to work together on this, be patient and everyone just do the best they can," he said.

Daly said Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board handed out devices to families in need last week, but will prepare to have more ready.

"There will need to be a little but of understanding for the first day or two when school starts back. The fourth and the fifth, I don't think people should expect perfection."

Child care centres, authorized recreational and skill-building programs and home-based child care services will remain open, but school-aged children are not allowed to attend while their schools are closed.

Before-and-after school programs will also be closed from Jan. 4 to Jan. 8.

Students with special learning needs can also expect to get extra support as needed, even if it is in-person.

The Grand Erie District School Board said its educators will provide synchronous and asynchronous learning to students throughout the school day. Families will hear from principals about the safe pick-up of devices and or learning materials in the new year.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.