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Caring in the face of challenge: learning and support during COVID-19

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Caring in the face of challenge: learning and support during COVID-19

Manny Figueiredo, Director of Education, and Alex Johnstone, Chair of the Board of Trustees.

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With HWDSB schools closed to students due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we want families to know that learning and support continue.

Early in the closure period, the Ministry of Education launched its Learn at Home portal and HWDSB provided supplementary online student learning resources. As the closure continues, HWDSB is preparing to reconnect with all students so that they can be successful in their learning.

This document is aligned with the Ministry of Education’s Learn at Home strategy and outlines how HWDSB educators will provide lessons to students remotely to help prepare them for the next step in their education journey. This plan will be updated as we explore this new method of learning.

Learning from home may look different for each class, in each school, as many of our educators will seek to build upon familiar learning platforms and strategies. Engagement in learning with your child may be through email, phone, or video.

Some educators may be ready to host online video sessions using MS Teams or work through our student-learning platform, The Hub. But distance learning differs from traditional online learning because students will not use a device for all learning, for example, during reading, writing and physical activity.

Our COVID-19 response is in a crucial period. It is vital that we respect the direction of municipal, provincial and federal public health agencies: stay home as much as possible, remain at least two metres away from others, do not attend gatherings of five or more people, and wash your hands often. Please continue to seek reliable information from the public health agencies.

This is an extremely challenging time for families. As an HWDSB community, we will be with you every step of the way. Our caring adults are here to support you.

We are navigating a new standard of service for our students and families. Our commitment is to continue to check in with you, respond to your feedback, and address the broader themes we learn.

Student Learning Resources mental health button


HWDSB will update families using SchoolMessenger (phone, email and text) and social media (TwitterFacebook and Instagram), as this plan evolves. This website supplements updates to families sent by letters, listed below:


All Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) schools, programs and sites were closed to students on March 14, 2020 due to the COVID-19 response. Premier Doug Ford has announced an extension beyond April 5, closing schools to students until May 4, 2020.

The Ministry of Education statement released on March 31, 2020, said: “Public schools will remain closed to teachers until Friday, May 1, 2020, and to students until Monday, May 4, 2020. As these dates come closer, this decision will be re-evaluated based on public health advice. The closure may be extended if necessary to protect the health and safety of students, families and staff.”

We have not received direction from the Ministry of Education about a possible extension to the school year. This would be a Ministry decision, if necessary.

HWDSB will be communicating with families through our SchoolMessenger service (phone calls, emails and SMS messages), through this web page, and on social media channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).

The following direction from the Ministry of Education and HWDSB applies as of Saturday, March 14, 2020:

  • All elementary and secondary schools, Education Centre, childcare centres in schools, EarlyON Child and Family Centres and all other off-site locations connected with HWDSB are closed.
  • All camps, Community Use/Rentals, and Before- and After-School programs are cancelled.
  • Excursions, co-op placements, School Council and Home & School Association meetings, mental health treatment programs, school events, international language programs, family-teacher interviews and athletics, including OFSAA, are cancelled.
  • Access to all school buildings is completely restricted at this time. If it is an emergency, please email the school principal or info@hwdsb.on.ca. You will have access to schools after the closure period has ended.
  • We know that school yards are important green spaces in many communities, however, school yards are closed. Play structures are not disinfected and, as a result, may not a safe place for children to play.
  • HWDSB has not yet decided whether it is necessary to cancel all field trips, athletic banquets, semi-formals and proms for the remainder of the school year. However, this may be possible. The decision to cancel graduations and commencements has also been deferred.
  • Education Quality and Accountability Office assessments are cancelled for the 2019-20 school year, including the graduation requirement for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test for students graduating in the 2019-20 school year.
Be on alert. Fraud and crime by email or electronic means remain a real threat during these challenging times. Heightened vigilance is required. Reliable sources of information include:

For HWDSB updates during the closure, please visit the HWDSB website at www.hwdsb.on.ca and follow HWDSB on social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). We will also communicate with families through our SchoolMessenger service (phone calls, emails and SMS messages).


Learning for students will continue

School teams are working with each other, establishing work-from-home spaces, identifying technology capacity and, most importantly, reaching out to their students and families. 

By April 3, students and families should have heard from a school staff member in order to gather an inventory of students and families that may not have access to a digital device and the internet. If you have yet to hear from your child’s teacher and wish to share concerns related to access to technology, please reach out in one of the following ways: 

  • the contact form on your school website (see elementary and secondary school listings) 
  • email HWDSB at info@hwdsb.on.ca
  • call us at 905-527-5092 and leave your contact information on the voicemail 

While schools are closed, Vice Principals, Principals and Superintendents will still be available by phone or email should you have any urgent questions or concerns. You can also expect educators to reach out to your child during this period, with a focus on access to technology and the internet.  

Starting Monday, April 6, school staff began providing learning opportunities for students. Watch for emails, newsletters, phone calls, and/or social media feeds. 

Communication with families will likely look different across HWDSB, depending on the grade and the practices already established for teacher-to-student and/or teacher-to-family communication. Families are welcome to reach out to educators by email.

Continuity of Learning for Students: Phase 1 (March 23-April 6)

Self-directed learning opportunities for students during the Ministerial Order (to April 6) were referred to as Phase 1 of learning supports. Teachers are not collecting or assessing student work during this time. As such, students are not expected to complete any work, assessments or evaluations. It is always a good idea for students to practice their skills and what they’ve learned.

Ministry of Education supports are available online at Learn at Home, a new web portal that provides resources for families so that students can continue learning while schools are closed.  

In addition, HWDSD has listed Student Learning Resourcesthat cover a range of grades and subjects that may be helpful for students and families. These online resources are not mandatory or graded and are meant to help families support independent learning while students are at home. 

The ministry has said that these resources do not replace what students have been learning at school but are intended to help mitigate learning loss during the COVID-19 shutdown period. The Ministry has indicated that phase two of Learn at Home began on Monday, April 6.    

Continuity of Learning for Students: Phase 2 (After April 6)

The Ministry and HWDSB have set expectations for the next phase of learning. We want to assure you that the school year is certainly not lost. Your child will advance to the next grade level. 

Staff have been working behind the scenes, training and adapting to online tools. Management teams, including school principals and vice-principals, have been trained on Microsoft (MS) Teams. Board service departments are training educators on digital platforms such as The HUB and MS Teams.

Unlike traditional online learning, distance learning does not necessarily rely on the use of technology. While initial instruction may be conducted online, students aren’t expected to be tied to a device for their learning. Our goal is to encourage students to read, communicate and engage in authentic learning experiences while continuing to be physically active and mentally well.  

Helping students succeed in distance learning

Starting Monday, April 6, school staff began providing learning opportunities for students. Watch for emails, newsletters, phone calls, and/or social media feeds. Each week, teachers will be supporting their students by: planning and assigning student work; engaging with students in a variety of ways that may include the board supported tools of MS Teams and The Hub; and providing feedback/assessment.  

Teachers will continue to take into consideration the needs of all students including those with special education needs (including accommodations/modifications as outlined in Individual Education Plans) as well as English-language learners. 

We also recognize that access to technology, devices and internet is a barrier for some students and families. Our educators are connecting with families to understand family circumstance and to resolve any challenges. A system committee is currently in place looking to support equity and access.

Supporting your child

Supporting your child is in Kindergarten to Grade 2

Supporting your child in grades 3 to 6

Supporting your child in grades 7 to 12

  • Maintaining consistent communication with child’s educator(s)
  • Ensuring your child participates in some exercise throughout the day
  • Ensuring students have a quiet, safe space to work
  • Taking interest in what they are learning
  • Answering questions your child may have
  • Contacting your child’s educator if your child is having difficulty with the content
  • Contacting your child’s educator if you have concerns about your child
  • Asking the educator questions if you don’t understand what students are learning
  • Making sure students have a quiet, safe space to work
  • Taking interest in what they are learning
  • Answering any questions your child may have
  • Contacting your child’s educator if your child is having difficulty with the content
  • Contacting your child’s educator if you have concerns about your child
  • Asking the educator questions if you don’t understand what students are learning


  • Making sure students have a quiet, safe space to work
  • Taking an interest in what they are learning
  • Answering any questions your child may have
  • Contacting your child’s educator if your child is having difficulty with the content
  • Contacting your child’s educator if you have concerns about your child
  • Asking the educator questions if you don’t understand what students are learning

Teaching and learning methods 

Learning from home may look different for each class, in each school, as many of our educators will seek to build upon existing online learning platforms their students already use. Engagement in learning with your child may be through email, phone, or video. Some educators may be ready to host online video sessions using MS Teams or work through our student-learning platform, The Hub. These programs are on our home page for students.

Assessment, Reporting and Evaluation

The Ministry of Education has provided direction for the assessment, evaluation and reporting of student learning during school closures. HWDSB shares the Ministry’s expectation that students will do their best to complete all work assigned as learning resumes. The shift to distance learning should not negatively impact student grades. As always, students and families should connect with their teachers if they have questions about assessment and evaluation.

Students’ marks will reflect work completed before March 13, 2020. When in the best interest of the student, teachers will consider learning completed during the school closure period in their determination of final grades. Again, their overall message is consistent with ours: for all grades, students should not be penalized due to the move to distance learning and that educators must understand the extremely difficult circumstances in which many of our families find themselves.

Elementary (Kindergarten to Grade 8)

  • As per the Ministry of Education’s direction, all school boards will issue final report cards, including the Kindergarten of Communication of Learning for all students.
  • Final grades will be entered in June 2020 and will reflect work completed and evaluated before March 13, 2020. When in the best interest of students, evidence of learning between now and June will be assessed and may be used to improve final grades where a student demonstrates further achievement of expectations.
  • Final grades can only improve from March 13 based on teacher feedback and assessment of  student performance on learning tasks Secondary

Secondary (Grades 9 to 12)

  • Grade 12 students: Mid-term marks will be recorded for students based on work completed and evaluated prior to March 13, 2020. Students may also submit additional work for consideration to improve their mid-term mark. For those applying to universities, mid-term marks will be submitted to the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) between April 23 and May 1. The Ontario College Application Service (OCAS) has confirmed that mid-term grades from this semester will not be required for admissions this fall. Students and families should contact the school with specific questions or concerns.
  • Grade 9, 10, 11, and 12 students: Final marks will be reported in June 2020, and will be based on work completed before March 13, 2020, and after April 6, 2020. Teachers will continue to assign learning tasks, projects and culminating activities and will provide feedback to students, including marks.
  • Final grades can increase or decrease from March 13 based on teacher feedback, assessment, and evaluations of student performance on learning tasks.

As per the Ministry of Education’s direction, all school boards will issue final report cards, including the Kindergarten Communication of Learning for all students. Midterm reports will be issued for graduating (Grade 12) students only.

Unique student situations

Graduating (Grade 12) students

The Ministry of Education has made it clear that Grade 12 students will not have their graduation or progression impacted by the developments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, one of our key priorities will be to support students who are scheduled to graduate this year. Any student who is on track to graduate will be supported to graduate.

Teachers of graduating students will provide mid-term reports for graduating students, in order to meet admission requirements for post-secondary education. Final report cards with marks will also be issued. The ministry is currently in discussions with colleges and universities about the adaptations required to support the admission process for students applying for post-secondary education and to ensure no student’s graduation or transition to post-secondary is jeopardized as a result of the school closure period.

The graduation requirement to complete 40 hours of community involvement is cancelled for this school year. Community involvement hours that have been completed should be reported on the report cards of graduating students. Graduating students should be encouraged to complete their hours wherever possible, where the health and safety of the student can be assured.

Students receiving special education support

Students receiving special education support should receive appropriate accommodations where necessary and be provided with assigned work by teachers, as well as feedback or assessment. The student’s current Individual Education Plan should continue to be followed.

HWDSB’s Specialized Services team has prepared additional learning supports, named Learning4Success, which are tailored for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder or a Developmental Disability who are on an alternative program. These materials are for family use and may be used to supplement instruction provided by the classroom teacher. There are examples of learning tasks that can be done at home.  Tasks can be adjusted to accommodate learners ages and interests, with the understanding that they may not be a perfect fit for each learner.

We continue to enhance and develop Learning4Success to meet the needs of students and families. You will see additional videos and resources posted weekly, so please visit the site often.

Co-ops, dual credit and eLearning programs

Cooperative Education is a highly immersive form of experiential learning and plays a key role in programs such as Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP).

For students who are enrolled in Cooperative Education courses which involve a classroom component and a community placement component, their in-person community placements are suspended. These students can work with their co-op teachers to modify their co-op Learning Plans so that they may work through the curriculum expectations. We are working with our community partners to create distance co-ops and other experiential learning opportunities so that these learners can be provided with opportunities to connect virtually with industry partners on career exploration activities, and experiential learning opportunities.

Graduating students in the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program unable to complete their SHSM requirements due to extenuating circumstances, including the impacts from COVID-19, will be supported through the override request process.

All Fennell campus dual credit courses resumed online beginning April 6. ENG4C/Mohawk Communications at Bernie Custis, Glendale and Westdale will continue. Because Welding Techniques cannot continue, students involved in the Welding program through the Stoney Creek campus will be able to continue their AutoCad class online. The Welding course will soon be replaced with Mechanical Maintenance.

Accelerated Level One AST and Truck & Coach Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Programs (OYAP) are not able to continue in their present form due to the practical nature of the courses. Information regarding a substitute course will be communicated at a later time as these programs don’t begin until the end of April.

eLearning courses continue to be available to students, but no evaluation of student learning is occurring.

Adult and Continuing Education classes and programs

As of March 23, 2020, Adult Day School for Credit and Hybrid for credit courses are continuing.

Students receiving special education supports How students can use The Hub Expectations of learning, by grade


Equity of access to technology and the internet


HWDSB staff from broad selection of departments have formed the Equity of Access Ad Hoc Committee. Members represent staff working in areas such as equity, community partnerships, learning resources, purchasing, school operations, information technology, program, research, school leadership, specialized services, facilites, human resources and more.

The goals of the committee are to:

  • identify barriers to students accessing online learning at home
  • identify strategies to remove barriers to students accessing on-line learning at home
  • identify barriers to Educators in providing on-line learning and communication with families
  • develop strategies and tools to assess the progress of online learning

HWDSB staff have worked towards a solution to support equitable access to learning at home for all students. Many, but not all, students have a device and internet access at home.

During the week of April 6, staff retrieved from elementary and secondary schools all available devices for students who need access to a device or the internet, identified by last week’s outreach by staff. Starting the week of April 13, we will distribute existing school devices to students who require a device. We will also provide devices enabled with internet to students who do not have home internet.

Identified families will receive specific communications from your child’s school and instructions for family pick-up starting next week. Families will be able to pick up the device from outside your child’s school. This will enable physical distancing. Staff are working with Public Health Services to ensure the safe transfer of equipment to families with or without vehicles.

If you have yet to hear from your child’s teacher and wish to indicate your family’s need for a device or home internet, please reach out in one of the following ways:

  • call the Education Centre at 905-527-5092 and leave your contact information/child’s school on the voicemail
  • email HWDSB at info@hwdsb.on.ca
  • contact form on your school website (see elementary and secondary school listings)

Please be assured that students will not fall behind as they await technology and/or access.

Mental health and well-being

This is a challenging and stressful time for students and families across our community. To help, HWDSB has developed a tip sheet for Supporting child and youth mental well-being during COVID-19. In addition, we have created a Student Mental Health Supports postcard that summarizes mental health supports in case of crisis, urgent or non-urgent incidents. Please share this information with those who can benefit from it.

The HWDSB Helps app continues to be active so that students or families can anonymously share non-urgent concerns through that service, which will share it with staff who can help.  Also, School Mental Health Ontario has produced resources for How to support student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • If this is a crisis, call 911 or visit your local hospital emergency room.
  • If this urgent, contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or kidshelppphone.ca; or, COAST Hamilton at 905-972-8338 or coasthamilton.ca.
  • If this is not urgent, please use the HWDSB Helps app available by text to 905-963-0066, the iOS and Android app or web chat at hwdsb.on.ca/wehelp.

If you are an HWDSB staff member seeking support, please contact our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Lifeworks. Find more details are on the myHOME staff portal.

  • Be patient with yourself and those close to you.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a break from the news and social media.
  • Provide children with age-appropriate factual information.
  • Please reach out to the school if support is needed.

Community supports

Here are a few supports that are available to families in the Hamilton area.

  • Financial Support: As of March 30, 2020, many types of financial support are available to help individuals and families experiencing challenges due to COVID-19. Learn more at hamilton.ca/coronavirus/financial-support-individuals
  • Active Food Banks: Hamilton Food Share continues to respond to the rapidly evolving situation in the city as a result of COVID-19. Hamilton Food Share is an emergency food bank hub that supplies healthy food to 12 food banks and hot meal programs across Hamilton. Learn more at hamiltonfoodshare.org/contact-2/food/
  • Housing Security: On March 20, 2020, the Government of Ontario issued an Emergency Order (O.Reg. 73/20) under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. The order suspends limitation periods and procedural time periods relevant to tribunal proceedings. The suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. Learn more at sjto.gov.on.ca/ltb/contact/
  • Legal Support/Questions re: Eviction: The website, Steps to Justice: Your guide to law in Ontario, provides updated information on critical changes or updates to government or court services, supports, laws, and regulations as they relate to COVID-19. Learn more at ca/covid-19

To learn about Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan and how the government is prepared to help Canadians who are facing financial hardship, visit the Government of Canada website.

Hamilton Foundation for Student Success remains committed to supporting HWDSB students in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more or to donate to the Foundation’s COVID-10 Relief Fund, please visit www.hamiltonfoundationforstudentsuccess.com.

You may also consider donating to the United Way of Halton and Hamilton or accessing their supports.


Mental Health Supports

Equity Action Plan


Board committee meetings 

Updates about Board meetings will be provided on the HWDSB website. Board committee meetings will continue via conference calls, with an audio recording of the public meeting posted to the website the next morning. Board of Trustee meetings will use conference calls and continue to live stream on the HWDSB YouTube channel. 

Suspensions and expulsions 

For students on short- or long-term suspension, the original end date for their suspension will remain in place, rather than extended due to the closureStudent Expulsion Hearings will still occur but are on pause until HWDSB can host hearings in person. 

School cleaning during the closure

All HWDSB schools received a regular cleaning after the end of the school day on March 13.  Since then, Facility Operations Supervisors have been visiting the sites as required to ensure that they remain in a state of good repair and available for students when we reopen. HWDSB takes its lead from Hamilton Public Health Services and should the public health department advise the school board to take any additional precautions, we will implement them immediately.

Notification of a COVID-19 case in the school community

HWDSB follows the lead of Hamilton Public Health Services (PHS) in all matters related to COVID-19. In situations where a person has tested positive for COVID-19, PHS determines what information needs to be communicated. If it is deemed necessary, PHS will share information with the school community, via the principal, and will also actively follow-up directly with those individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. 


We would like to thank you for your patience as we work through the Ministerial Order. Please be advised that we are not accepting any deliveries at the Education Centre or our school sites.


Updated on Wednesday, April 08, 2020.
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