COVID-19 Update – January 2022
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Mental health supports – please see supports as the pandemic’s challenges continue.
Parents and caregivers have been so patient with us as we work through the details of Ministry announcements and prepare for return to school. This update highlights what you need to know before we return to in-person learning on Monday, January 17, 2022.
Let us start by reminding families that tomorrow, Friday, January 14, is a half-day of asynchronous learning in the afternoon. This will allow educators time to transition to in-person and for staff to meet to review all COVID-19 public health measures and protocols.
We know our community has mixed feelings about the return in person. We will do our best to honour these diverse views, as we put well-being first. We hope this update is clear and can address some concerns.
In last week’s letter to the Minister of Education, the Board of Trustees asked for some level of reporting COVID-19 cases because the province has stopped daily case management. This would help families and staff understand the risk level at a school. We are being told that a focus will move from reporting COVID-19 cases to potential thresholds of student absences in schools. This direction implies that this data would act as a potential indicator for what is happening with COVID-19 in school communities, but it is not an exact measure.
As we await more details, please follow public health guidance, and make your own family decisions as needed.
Outlined below, HWDSB may see an increase in staff absences, and we ask families to be prepared for potential classroom or school closures and temporary transitions to remote learning. We will deploy system staff and access available retired staff for support to minimize disruption.
We will work with our partners in Hamilton Public Health Services to promote mobile vaccine clinics in local neighbourhoods, and school-based vaccine clinics announced by the province.
The Board of Trustees continues to advocate for adequate COVID-19 funding from the Ontario government. We will continue this work to support our students and staff.
We look forward to seeing students return to in-person learning. Together, we can support the safety and well-being of your children, as well as their achievement and success.
Dawn Danko, Chair of the Board
Manny Figueiredo, Director of Education
Daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms and staying home if you are sick remain important ways to reduce the spread of the virus. Please complete this daily for each child using the updated COVID-19 School and Child Care Screening. The screening has been updated with symptoms that are typically seen with Omicron, as well as with updated guidance on testing and isolation periods.
All schools must also return to the use of daily confirmation that a student in Kindergarten to Grade 12 has completed the screening. Confirmation can be done by showing an educator the green check mark at the end of the screening, that confirms a pass; or they can present a family signature on the monthly attestation calendar available online.
Note: Unlike previous transitions to in-person learning, we do not require families to complete an attestation before their child returns to school.
As a reminder, HWDSB schools use the SafeArrival tool to make it easy for families to report upcoming student absences, rather than sending notes or contacting the school. You can report an absence using a web browser, the School Messenger app, or by phone. Note that we have added “COVID-19 Related” to the list of reasons for a student absence.
Positive Case Reporting and Managing Attendance Rates
Ontario has suspended COVID-19 reporting requirements for school boards, including contact tracing, cohort/class dismissals, notification of confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools, and advisory reporting. Given the widespread transmission and inability to test all symptomatic individuals, Public Health will no longer be notifying schools of confirmed cases or dismissing cohorts/classes. Under the new interim guidance, parents/guardians are also no longer required to report a positive COVID test result to the school as part of absence reporting. These changes have resulted in a significant shift in how COVID-19 cases and contact tracing will be managed. If attendance rates rise to a defined level (approximately 30% above their baseline) in schools, schools will notify Public Health, who we will work with on communicating to the school community.
Staffing challenges have been a reality in many sectors due to the spread of the Omicron variant and the need for workers to isolate. We will do everything we can to replace absent staff so we can keep schools open and safe for in-person learning. However, a temporary move to remote learning could be possible. A school closure, in case of attendance rates, will be a last resort and we will communicate with families as soon as we are aware of this issue. We feel that it is important to let families know that this could be a possibility for a class or school at some point.
- PCR Testing: As a reminder, as an interim approach until a consistent supply of rapid antigen tests is confirmed, and in alignment with updated testing guidance from the Ministry of Health, the remaining PCR self-collection testing kits already in schools may be distributed with a targeted focus on students and staff who require isolation after developing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 while at school. These PCR tests will only be shared with students or staff who are symptomatic at school.
- Rapid Antigen Testing: HWDSB will receive two tests available for all in-person elementary students, and all school board staff who come into contact with students and when individuals are symptomatic. Shipments are on their way from the Ontario Government. We may receive them at the Education Centre by Monday, but we will need to process them and deliver them to schools. Staff are working quickly to package and deliver them to schools. Elementary schools will be prioritized based on shipment supply and the Ministry of Education direction.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- N95 Masks: All education staff must wear a medical/surgical mask, but HWDSB will also be offering staff the option to use a non-fitted N95 masks as an alternative to a medical mask.
- 3-ply masks for students: For students, the provincial government has also expanded access to free high-quality three-ply cloth masks. These will be available in schools as of January 17, 2022, for students who need them.
Elementary cohorting in classes and recess continues. Secondary cohorting in classes and at lunch continues.
In an anxious time for some, we want to update you on the ventilation work at HWDSB, most of which is detailed on our Ventilation web page. Before school began in 2020, we hired licensed mechanical contractors to verify that the ventilation equipment was operating properly at every school; any issues were repaired. Staff now complete daily “air flushes” two hours before people enter and two hours after they leave a school; filters are changed as required, and any maintenance is occurring.
HWDSB received funding for 30 projects under the COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream (CVRIS) Program, as noted on our website. Most projects are complete, but 13 remain under construction due to supply chain delays. During construction, HEPA air purifiers remain in schools. Likewise, all 18 schools without mechanical ventilation were provided with HEPA filters in classrooms and shared spaces. CVRIS projects will add full mechanical ventilation in six schools.
HWDSB has 1,039 high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units deployed, as per Ministry direction, in schools without mechanical ventilation and in Kindergarten spaces. We expect to receive 57 more HEPA filters in the weeks ahead. Although HEPA filters are in all spaces that meet Ministry criteria, staff will determine where to place these additional filters.
In-person meetings, athletics and extra-curricular activities
A pause on all in-person meetings, athletics and extra-curricular activities will be in place for the first week back and then re-assess to ensure all the PH requirements are in place.
We know how important in-person meetings, athletics and extracurricular activities are at HWDSB. We will provide updates as they become available and will make any further adjustments to athletics to follow all Public Health guidelines.
Families can expect delays as the school bus driver shortage may be even further impacted with the potential higher than usual bus driver attendance rates. Families are reminded to check the Hamilton-Wentworth Student Transportation Services’ Parent Portal or website, and plan accordingly.
During severe winter weather, the difficult decision to remain open or to close is always made with the safety and security of our students and staff in mind. In the event that schools are closed due to inclement weather, all in-person and remote learning will be cancelled for that day. Learn more about Severe Weather at HWDSB.
As students return to in-person school, we ask those who received a loaned device for the temporary remote learning period to bring their devices back to school. Please label the device with the child’s name and include any cables or charging blocks included with the device.
Physical Health Education
High intensity activities within these classes will be on pause but gym will continue.
Music class will continue but there will be no band or choir.
Continuity of Learning During an Absence
If your child is absent due to illness or other, your child’s classroom educator will contact the primary caregiver to support learning during this time.
The Remote Learning survey is now available to families until 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 20. This survey can be accessed through the Parent Portal. Families can also call their child/ren’s school to have their choice recorded during regular school hours. Only families requesting a full transition to remote learning until June 2022 need to complete this survey. Read more in the Elementary Update here.
Elementary Short-Term Virtual Learning
Families planning to delay their return to in-person learning will have a short-term virtual learning option. This short-term option will be delivered through independent (asynchronous) learning without remote instruction. Talk to your principal if this option is right for your family. Learn about Elementary Short-Term Virtual Learning.
Secondary to Full-Time eLearning
Secondary students learn remotely by selecting a timetable with eLearning courses only. Students who are interested in changing from in-person to eLearning for semester two can do so through their guidance counselors. A registration in an eLearning course is for the full semester and there is no opportunity to transfer back to in-person learning.
Guidance appointments for interested students should be made as soon as possible to ensure timetable change requests can be accommodated. Learn more in the Secondary Update here.
Secondary Short-Term Virtual Learning
Short-term virtual learning for secondary students will be provided through the continuity of learning model until the end of Quadmester Two. This will allow students to remain connected to their current teachers and to prevent timetable changes in the final weeks of the current Quadmester.
Families and students considering this option should contact their principal to let them know they will be participating in short-term virtual learning. Learn about Secondary Short-Term Virtual Learning.
Secondary Semester Two
The Ministry of Education has permitted school boards to move to a regular timetable for secondary unless otherwise directed by their local public health units. HWDSB will be returning to four courses at the start of Semester Two unless otherwise directed by Hamilton Public Health Services.
Student Success Days and Examinations
Student Success Days are an opportunity for all students to complete tasks, assignments, performances, or other activities to demonstrate their achievement of overall learning expectations. For the current quadmester, the Student Success Days will take place on January 31 and February 1.
Some students may have final exams that will occur prior to the Student Success Days. This will be confirmed by your student’s classroom teacher.