Parents frustrated with HWDSB Parent Portal issues amid looming registration deadlines

Parents and caregivers of Hamilton public schools are frustrated as they struggle to access the school's online portal to complete important documents for schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families have until Aug. 25 at noon to tell the public board if their kids will learn in school or online

Parents are worried they won't meet the Aug.25 deadline to tell the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board if their kids will learn in class or online. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Parents and caregivers of Hamilton public school students are frustrated as they struggle to access the board's online portal to state whether their children will be returning to school in September or accessing e-learning.

Complaints online show that families can't access the Hamilton-Wentworth Public District School Board Parent Portal and when they do get access, they can't find all of their kids listed on the website.

Sarah Eltorki has a child entering junior kindergarten and another entering Grade 2 in Dundas.

Her family has been on edge trying to decide whether or not they will attend class in September but the online issue was the "last straw."

"I have no confidence in anything they could possibly do at the moment," she told CBC.

It's adding to confusion and frustration from families as the school year draws closer with many unanswered questions about reopening schools during COVID-19.

Parents have until Aug. 25 at noon to register public school kids into online or in-class learning, but some fear they won't register on time because of the technical issues.

The same portal also includes screening documents parents need to complete to allow their kids in school.

Manny Figueiredo, the board's director, admitted the fault is on the board for the errors.

One of the main complaints is that parents are not seeing all of their own kids appear in the system.

 He said that is a consequence of a previous problem where parents complained about getting several copies of board emails, one for each child in the system.

"In the past, and we responded to that, parents say 'Why am I getting the same three emails from the school?' That's because emails were attached to every student in our student information system. In the spirit of being helpful, office administration just kept email information attached to one child, not all three in a family," he explained.

"The consequence is manually going back and entering them in."

The board also cites "data entry errors or errors due to high volume on our site" for other issues and Figueiredo said it is prioritizing the issue because the information on the Parent Portal will be crucial to the reopening plan.

Those numbers will help determine how many kids will be in school and how many won't. He said additional staff are helping to solve the problem.

"Nothing is ideal in this September start up," he said.

HWDSB released a video on how to access the site, but many parents online say it isn't working.

Eltorki said she followed all the steps. First, parents visit the login page of the portal. Then, they click "forgot my password" which allows parents to enter a username and email. A message is supposed to appear to parents' email addresses where they can set a password.

But that isn't working for Eltorki.

"You get nothing. You get no password reset and I tried it multiple times," she said.

"You email the school board, you get no response."

Eltorki tried emailing the schools for her children about her issues and says she was told only the school secretaries could help her — but she said the secretaries don't start working until September and was told to return to the school board.

While Eltorki has nothing bad to say about the schools themselves, she said the board has had a lot of time to plan and now has no confidence in them with this technical issue.

Other issues surfacing on Twitter include not all children being included in the portal and parents not being able to select which type of learning their kids will access in September.

"One of my children is missing in the account. I sent an email as suggested but what should I do if this is not corrected until the deadline of 25th of August?" asked a user named Natalia Bourenane.

Another user, named Jignesh Patel, tweeted: "Is it ever going to work before 21st August? Why not you guys test it before opening for public. Your IT team need to fired ASAP."

Figueiredo said he understands everyone's frustrations.

"Things are coming fast and furious, as you know from ministry changing directions and staff is responding as quickly as they can and what happens is these kinds of crisis times are stress tests," he explained.

"There are going to be other challenges along the way."


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.