Teachers back to work, boards face huge challenge providing learning in COVID break

HWDSB and HWCDSB are trying to create plans to best serve students, some of whom won't be able to access e-learning, while also having to prepare for an extended learn-from-home period stretching beyond April 5.

Educators aren't sure how to reach students or teach through a completely digital platform

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board must prepare for students to return to class on April 6 and plan for if they don't. (Christopher Langenzarde/CBC)

Monday is the first day educators will have a chance to teach since COVID-19 closed schools across Hamilton, but how they'll pull it off is unclear.

Pat Daly, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board's chairperson, said the expectation today is that educators do whatever they can.

"Whether that's on their own professional development or communicating with students or parents, that's the expectation that they'll be doing that as much as possible," he said.

"Do I suggest for a minute it's like a normal school day? Of course not, it's not for any people in education but I know they'll be doing the best they can."

All of Ontario's publicly-funded schools were closed for two weeks after March Break to Apr. 5 by a ministerial order earlier this month and all standardized testing has been cancelled. At the time the province said it was working out a plan to ensure learning continues during this period, but Premier Doug Ford said on Monday kids will stay home longer.

"The kids won't be going back to school on April 6. We want to make sure we have the proper time frame," he said, adding that "our priority is to make sure our kids are safe."

Daly said administrators have just started planning what educators should be doing right now during the "unprecedented times" that may affect students' educational outcomes.

"Everyone is doing everything they can so that it doesn't happen but obviously there are huge challenges without the learning taking place in schools," he said.

Teachers are supposed to be working starting today, doing everything they can.

Hamilton's public school board has not provided any information about how, or what, learning it is offering students this week.

"There's a lot of planning and contingency work taking place," said HWDSB spokesperson Shawn McKillop.

Students will have to work from home for the foreseeable future and school boards are still trying to navigate how to best serve them. (Submitted by Lara Alt)

Joe Cappadocia, a teacher Cathedral High School in Hamilton, said he's been doing marking, but hasn't been able to do any teaching — and teaching completely through digital means is new territory for him and others.

"We've not been given any directions to go online, instructing students, if we're going to be using the e-learning platforms or anything like that, there's nothing on that other than what has been put out publicly by the minister's statements," he told CBC News.

"And to me it all seems ... more supplemental material over the next two weeks."

Province introduces e-learning

The Ontario government announced Friday it is launching a new online learning portal for students shut out of their schools as part of the province's effort to contain COVID-19.

The province said the portal, Learn from Home, will offer made-in-Ontario math and literacy resources, created by Ontario-certified educators, in both English and French.

Ontario government launches online learning portal amid COVID-19 pandemic

3 years ago
Duration 1:00
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the new portal will contain math and literacy resources to “help mitigate learning loss” while schools are closed.

The resources offer interactive activities for elementary students and a focus on STEM courses for high school students.

Many of the online activities are from TVO, the province's public broadcaster.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce will be rolling out a second phase of online resources now that students will have to stay at home beyond April 5.

Boards must create plan in two weeks

The province has given HWCDSB and Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board until Apr. 5 to have a plan ready for students now that they won't return to class in early April.

HWDSB trustee board chair Alex Johnstone told CBC News it won't be easy to come up with because of equity challenges kids face.

"Not all of our students have access to technology and not all of our students have access to Internet, as well as there are unique learning needs to students with special education learning," she said.

"HWDSB and all boards across the province are working together and there is no creative solution that is not being considered."

The planning is still in its infancy, but the board sent a letter to families on Friday about how its COVID-19 Contingency Committee has been meeting daily to create both plans.

Johnstone added the board is reaching out to Apple, HP and others to try and find a plan.

"Collaborative efforts are required with our educators, with our students, with our parents and our overall community."


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.

With files from CBC News