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

By Nathan Sager

Published on January 21, 2022 at 10:42 p.m.

Schoolchildren and parents in Hamilton will still be notified when a classmate or educator has a confirmed case of COVID-19, provided the person with the condition can get tested.

The city’s two main school boards have said they will share information about known cases with the relevant class or cohort – something the Ontario government no longer requires. The approach of Hamilton Public Board (HWDSB) and Hamilton Catholic Board (HWCDSB) appears to be on a voluntary basis; it relies on staff and families self-reporting positive Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) results.

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

Councils will no longer share case numbers with Hamilton Public Health Services, but reported that it would help give information to parents. Students and staff who do not have symptoms, who have not been advised to self-isolate and who are screened daily can go to school.

The HWDSB said Monday that “a parent/guardian may notify the principal of their child/children of a positive student test result (PCR or RAT). Staff also have the option of self-reporting a positive test result. The school will post on its website without disclosing the name or position of the case. We encourage families to subscribe to their school’s website to receive notifications of updates.

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

The message was signed by President Dawn Danko and Director of Education Manny Figueiredo.

The public board has also added a page to its website to share information about positive test results.

The HWCDSB cited “our responsibility to report” as a reason to continue supporting reporting at the class and cohort level. A letter posted online and signed by Catholic Board Chairman 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 inform all relevant classes and/or cohorts.

“Consistent with past practice, notification will be in the form of a letter that will only be sent to the relevant class and/or cohort, as a courtesy rather than as an actionable item,” indicates the HWCDSB. “Under updated provincial guidelines, students and staff are no longer considered high-risk contacts and classes/cohorts will not be rejected.

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

“…For reasons of confidentiality, the identity of the person(s) will not be shared.”

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

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

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

In-person learning resumed at schools in Hamilton and across Ontario this week for the first time since Dec. 17. Only 10.64% of children aged 5 to 11 in Hamilton have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the first dose is listed at 46.75 percent. A child in this age group can receive their second dose as early as 21 days after the first.

The two councils also said there are plans to hold school-based vaccination clinics for children and young people.

“Any vaccinations 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 notified well in advance and participation is voluntary.”

EQAO has taken a break from the HWDSB

The Hamilton Public Board also said its Grade 9 students will not take EQAO’s provincial math exam. Other councils, including the District of Peel and Region of Waterloo Public, have opted out of having students take the test.

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

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

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