Hamilton’s public schools want to be ‘last to close and first open’ if there’s another lockdown

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Published September 28, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Hamilton’s public school board has issued an open letter calling on provincial leaders to ensure that schools are the last to close and first to open in the event of another pandemic-related lockdown.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) addressed the letter to Ontario’s Minister of Health, Minister of Education and Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“At Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), we urge the government to adhere to the principle that schools be the first to open and the last to close going forward, for the sake of student mental health and wellbeing and to support working families,” the letter said.

“We know that over this pandemic, students and families have felt the impact of schools not being prioritized to open first.”

The letter goes on to point out that while the transition to online learning throughout the course of the pandemic has kept many people safe, the effects of closures on the overall well-being of staff, students and families have been “too high.”

The letter points to several studies and opinions of medical experts that support safely keeping children in schools, which is considered by many to be “crucial for the developmental, emotional, psychosocial and mental health of children and youth.”

The board called the findings ‘alarming,’ and despite these findings being presented to the Province last Spring in an effort to encourage the reopening of schools for the last month of the 2020-21 school year, schools remained closed.

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, just as the fourth wave of the pandemic appeared to be cresting, the HWDSB, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board and others across Ontario dedicated resources to ensuring schools remained safe for students to return.

School boards also introduced mandatory vaccination disclosure and procedure policies to add another ‘layer’ of protection in schools to ensure that they remain open despite the fact that students under the age of 11 cannot yet be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Between September 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, Hamilton had a total of 67 school COVID-19 outbreaks,” the letter said.

“This encompasses both elementary and secondary, as well as public and private boards. Within these outbreaks, there was a cumulative 220 confirmed cases (155 students and 65 staff).

“With vaccination rates on the rise and the upcoming possibility of vaccination for those aged 5 to 11, we are hopeful that we can reduce the chance of any school closure this year and minimize the impact of classroom closures or individual isolation requirements.”

As of Tuesday (Sept. 28), of the 21 reported active outbreaks across Hamilton, 11 of them were in schools which were reporting a total of 34 confirmed cases.

To read the HWDSB’s open letter, visit the board’s website.

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