Hamilton schools add COVID-19 measures, after Ontario pauses reporting requirements


Published January 21, 2022 at 10:42 pm

Schoolchildren and parents in Hamilton will still be told when a classmate or educator has a confirmed case of COVID-19, provided that the afflicted person could get tested.

Both major boards of education in the city have stated that they will share information about known cases with the affected class or cohort — which the Ontario government no longer requires. The approach by both the Hamilton public board (HWDSB) and Hamilton Catholic board (HWCDSB) appears to be on a voluntarily basis; it counts counts on staff and families self-reporting positive results from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or Rapid Antigen Test (RAT).

Ontario’s school reopening plan did call for each student to receive two RATs.

The boards will no longer be reporting case numbers to Hamilton Public Health Services, but signalled this will help give parents some information. Students and staff who do not have symptoms, who have not been advised to isolate, and who pass a daily screening may go to school.

The HWDSB says of Monday, “a parent/guardian can notify their child/ren’s principal of a positive student test result (PCR or RAT). Staff also have the option to self-report a positive test result. The school will post to their website without disclosing the name or position of the case. We encourage families to subscribe to their school website to get notifications of updates.

“Self-reporting a test result is encouraged but voluntary,” the board says, adding: “(W)e want families to be able to make an informed decision about sending their child to school.”

The message was signed by chair Dawn Danko and director of education Manny Figueiredo.

The public board has also added a page to its website for sharing infomation about positive test results.

The HWCDSB cited “our responsibility to report” as a reason to continue supporting class- and cohort-level reporting. A letter posted online that was signed by the Catholic board’s chairperson, Patrick Daly, and director of education, David Hansen, said principals who are notified of a positive COVID-19 test result (PCR or RAT) are required to notify any affected classes and/or cohorts.

“As per past practice, the notification will be in the form of a letter which will only be sent to the affected class and/or cohort, as a courtesy rather than an actionable item,” the HWCDSB says. “Under the updated provincial guidance, students and staff are no longer considered to be high-risk contacts and classes/cohorts will not be dismissed.

“Class-level reporting of positive COVID-19 cases will only be as good as the information available to schools. Principals can only report what they know. To ensure full transparency, parents/guardians are asked to notify the school if their child tests positive for COVID-19.

” …Out of privacy considerations, the identity of the individual(s) will not be shared.”

After saying case-by-case reporting would be paused, the Ontario PC Party government also announced that public health units would only be informed if 30 per cent of entire school’s students and staff were absent. In some boards, students who logged in for online learning would count toward the attendance rate.

However, also starting on Monday, the Ontario government will have an online list of COVID-related school closures and what it terms “absenteeism.” It will be updated the following day, so a closure that, for example, happens on Tuesday would be disclosed on Wednesday.

“Hamilton Public Health Services will be notified if absenteeism rises to a defined level and a letter will be sent home to families,” the Catholic board said in a letter to parents. “The defined level is still being determined.”

In-person learning resumed in Hamilton and Ontario schools this week for the first time since Dec. 17. Only 10.64 per cent of children aged five to 11 across Hamilton have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and the first-dose uptake is listed at 46.75 per cent. A child in that age range can get their second dose as soon as 21 days after their first.

Both boards also said there are plans to hold school-based vaccine clinics for children and youth.

“Any vaccination during the school day would require a consent form signed by the student’s parent in advance,” the Catholic board noted. “Parents (and) guardians will be provided ample notice and participation is voluntary.”

EQAO paused in HWDSB

The Hamilton public board also said that its Grade 9 students will not be writing the EQAO provincial math exam. Other boards, including Peel District and Waterloo Region public, have decided not to have students write the test.

“(This will) provide more time for instruction and culminating activities in the remaining days of this quadmester,” HWDSB said.

“We plan to resume our participation in Semester 2.”

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