Hamilton

300 HWDSB elementary students move to virtual school before 2nd COVID-19 reorganization

Roughly 300 more students will be joining Hamilton public school board's virtual school as more COVID-19 cases appear in the region and as Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is set to proceed with its second reorganization of the year.

400 educators will be reassigned by next week

HWDSB is seeing more students turn to online learning as Hamilton's COVID-19 case count climbs. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Roughly 300 more students will be joining Hamilton public school board's virtual school as more COVID-19 cases appear in the region and as Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is set to proceed with its second reorganization of the year.

A new board report shows about 800 students have switched to online learning and 500 students have opted for in-person learning.

There are already 8,700 students enrolled for online learning, which means there could be roughly 9,000 students looking to learn from home during the school year.

Now HWDSB will need to adjust classes as it also tries to manage a "massive reorganization" and potential budget shortfall after learning that about 1,700 fewer students are enrolled than previously thought. Many of them switched to homeschooling.

At least 400 educators to be re-assigned

The new report reveals the reorganization will force more than 400 teachers and designated early childhood educators (DECEs) to move to a different school or teach a new class. It's unclear how many other educators, like educational assistants, will be impacted.

The changes come as the board has seen dozens of COVID-19 cases in its system. 

The report shows the virus has infected 21 student and nine staff across 13 elementary schools and eight high schools as of Monday morning. There has also been one outbreak after two staff members at Shannen Koostacin Elementary School tested positive.

Educators in HWDSB are bracing for an entirely new assignment in November amid a second massive reorganization during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

"There have been no cases involving the transmission of COVID-19 between students or students and staff in schools," reads the report.

Almost 1,500 people have signed a petition to stop reorganization, but vice-chair of HWDSB, Dawn Danko, said it's impossible without more support from the province.

There have also been 3,157 absences reported between Sept. 14 and Oct. 20 due to people failing the COVID-19 screening measures. Of those, 2,811 are students and 346 are staff. Absences in late September were more than double the previous year.

"[Screening] is having its intended effect, which is you attested you'll do the screening and stay home and call it in, so it sure tells me people are taking the screening seriously," Peter Sovran, HWDSB associate director of learning services, previously said.

But Daryl Jerome, president of the local Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, previously called the numbers "absolutely concerning."

Masking exemption numbers have remained stable

Mask exemption numbers as of Oct. 20 have remained relatively stable since the end of September, but there are about 246 new exemption forms filled out, for a total of 4,368.

"The number of students with a noted exception not wearing a mask for part or all of the school day has been observed to be considerably less than the actual exception forms on file," reads the report.

"Overall, the wearing of masks by students has not presented any significant challenges in schools to date."About 1 in 10 students are exempt from wearing masks.

Mask exemption have remained stable in HWDSB (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

Unions representing educators have raised concerns about the exemption process, criticizing it for being too lenient. That's because you don't need medical proof to be exempt from wearing a mask or face covering.

HWDSB said it was directed by public health to not overwhelm local doctors with requests for notes. It has also emphasized compassion over discipline for those struggling to wear masks and said it would work with students to eventually wear masks or put them on for part of the day.

Potential budget shortfall now $10.3 million

HWDSB has also re-adjusted its budget projections and now thinks the total deficit sits at $10.3 million right now.

On Thursday, the board noted the shortfall would be $8.8 million.

Those numbers don't factor in how much reserve funds could be used, but the board is preparing to operate on a deficit.

Trustees pass two new motions

Trustees passed a motion to reaffirm the commitment to use up to $9 million in reserve funds to lower in-person class sizes in kindergarten and Grades 4 to 8, and to also address equity issues in high-priority schools.

This means the board will use as much of its funds as possible while also focusing on schools in low-income neighbourhoods.

Trustees also passed a motion to write a letter to the Ministry of Education asking for more money.

The letter will include three specific requests:

  1. HWDSB wants its share $50 million in federal funding from the ministry.
  2. The ministry should fund the board's grants based on projections, not Oct. 31 actual enrolment.
  3. The ministry should increase replacement costs for sick/absent staff.

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

  • An earlier version of this article overstated the number of student mask exemptions. The number as of Oct. 20 is 4,368.
    Oct 27, 2020 11:17 AM ET

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