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Back to school in Hamilton: Public board updates plans for class sizes and masks

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Back to school in Hamilton: Public board updates plans for class sizes and masks

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has released further details about students’ return to school in the coming weeks and there are some significant changes to note.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes from previous updates is the board’s decision to adjust class sizes to address concerns of parents and school staff.

Class sizes

“HWDSB will reduce class sizes by using $9 million in reserve funds to hire up to 86.4 additional elementary teachers and 54 designated early childhood educators,” an update to parents says.

The board says these funds will go towards creating 77 new classrooms and will allow for reduced kindergarten and grades 4 to 8 class sizes.

“Current class size caps for grades 1 to 3 can accommodate physical distancing,” the release says. Class sizes in those grades are capped at 20.

Kindergarten classes are expected to be reduced from around 26 students to 22 and in the higher grades from 25 to 24 or 23.

At a special board meeting on Monday (August 24), director of education, Manny Figueiredo told trustees that more on class sizes will be determined once pre-registration via the board’s beleaguered Parent Portal has been completed.

Figueiredo estimated that approximately 20 per cent of elementary parents would likely opt for remote learning.

Masks for all grades

Another big change from previous reopening plans is the requirement that students from JK to Grade 3 will now be required to wear a mask in school.

“To further enhance safety measures for all students and staff, non-medical masks will be required for students in kindergarten to grade 3 in addition to grades 4 to 12, while they are indoors. Students may wear their own non-medical masks, and non-medical masks will also be made available for students,” the HWDSB release said.

“Recognizing that many students may experience difficulties wearing a mask, we are working with public health to develop exceptions, and guidelines related to when masks can be removed.”

Secondary model

High school students are also going to see some changes to previous reopening models for their schools.

Here are some of the important changes:

  • Schools with 5-period days: All secondary schools, including those that are regularly scheduled as 5 period days, will now operate on four rotations of approximately 22 days
  • Turnaround days: Hamilton Public Health has indicated that five turnaround days between rotations, as previously noted in the model, are not required. This means 19 more in-person school days for students this semester.
  • Study Hall: We will be asking secondary parents and guardians to confirm whether your high school student will stay at school during the remote learning afternoons, or if they will be travelling home to learn remotely. Students that choose to stay at school during the afternoons for remote learning will be assigned a space in a designated ‘study hall’ area of the school (e.g., gymnasium, learning commons, cafeteria) and will be expected to remain in this space for the duration of the remote learning blocks. We will make every effort to keep cohorts in the same area to minimize the number of student-to-student contacts. Study halls will be supervised, but support with course work will continue through remote instruction. This Form will be in the Parent Portal and more communication will be ready when available.

Staggered return

And finally, one other big change for all grades is the HWDSB’s plans to stagger students’ return to school.

The board provided the following models for the first two weeks of school that will allow staff and students to reorient themselves and get used to the new school environment and its routines.

The following is the elementary staggered back-to-school timetable:

The following is the secondary staggered back-to-school model:

Outbreak protocols

At Monday’s meeting, board trustees also discussed the fact that the board still does not have a plan in place in the event that there is an outbreak of the virus at one of the city’s schools.

Outbreak protocols are in the process of being developed in collaboration between school boards, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and public health.

Peter Sovran, Associate Director of Education, Learning Services, explained to trustees that they were still waiting on direction from higher levels of government for direction.

Sovran noted that if the protocols don’t land by the end of this week, this could push back schools reopening because the timing won’t allow for proper training for teachers and staff.

For more information on the HWDSB’s plans for back to school, visit their website.

UPDATE: At the time this story was published, the Province had yet to release their protocols for schools in the event of an outbreak. Later Wednesday afternoon (August 26) the Province announced that they had developed a plan. Details of that plan can be found here.

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