Hamilton public school board reduces class sizes, staggers start for fall return

Trustees with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) approved plans to reduce kindergarten class sizes for the 2020-21 school year during a board meeting on Monday night.

Initially, the HWDSB planned around class sizes of about 26 in a fall 2020 return amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the board opted to add 47 more classes across the system in an effort to reduce the average class size to about 22.

The move requires the hiring of 56 teachers at an additional cost of about $7.4 million.

Read more: Back to school in Hamilton may be staggered as registration glitches pop up

The board also agreed to reduce class sizes for grades 4 to 8 in 2020-21 from 25 to 24 in keeping with the required one metre of spacing between desks as per provincial guidelines.

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The board agreed to add 30 classrooms with 36 more teachers at an estimated additional cost of $3 million for that initiative.

Associate director of support services Stacey Zucker said in both circumstances, numbers could be further reduced depending on the results of pre-registration for in-person classes.

“So it is likely that the in-person class sizes can decrease even more, below the 21.8 (average) with reorganization in remote learning,” Zucker said about the potential size of kindergarten classes.

The HWDSB will use about $9 million of its reserve fund, as per provincial guidelines set out by Education Minister Stephen Lecce in mid-August, to cover the costs of the reduced class sizes.

Grades 1 through 3 will see classes of 20 students.

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Read more: Hamilton Catholic schools will stagger school reopenings, masks now mandatory for all students

HWDSB schools to have staggered starts

With the Ministry of Education’s allowance for staggered starts across Ontario for the 2020-21 school year, the HWDSB has opted to do so for the first two weeks in September.

The approved plan allows groups of students who require special education supports and/or additional support with transitions and mental health to become familiar with the routines and enhanced public health measures before a full return for all students on Sept. 16.

Under the plan, grade 9 and 10 students will attend in person on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, with grades 11 and 12 starting class on Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, high schools that normally run as five-period days will convert to four rotations of approximately 22 days for the first semester.

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The revised schedule includes 150 minutes of in-person instruction, followed by an 80-minute lunch break.

The remainder of the day will include three 40-minute blocks of remote learning with three 10-minute blocks of independent study.

A common lunchtime will replace period 3 and 4 assigned lunch breaks.

Board approves mandatory masks in class

A motion from trustee Carole Paikin Miller requiring all HWDSB students to wear a mask while at a school was passed unanimously at Monday night’s board meeting.

Paikin Miller made the motion on the “controversial issue” saying that “literature” claiming children aren’t vulnerable to COVID-19 was mixed.

“I feel that this is much too important to get this right,” said Paikin Miller. “We don’t want to make any slip-ups or errors. And I think that we need to consider that these are little ones and their lives are just as precious as everybody else.”

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At a special meeting last Thursday, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) trustees also voted unanimously in favour of mandatory masks or face coverings for all students from junior kindergarten to Grade 12.

Up to 20 per cent of elementary students could use remote learning, says exec

The director of education for the HWDSB suggested that up to 20 per cent of students — one in five — potentially could sign on for remote learning.

Manny Figueiredo estimated that initial data on registrations suggests about 15 to 20 per cent of parents are leaning towards remote learning.

Read more: ‘There is just no way to do this’ — Teachers worry over school reopening plans amid coronavirus

“So that will spark us to do some staffing reorganization in our elementary schools and to use some current staff, either new hires to remote or current staff,” said Figueiredo.

The board is expecting to have an exact number of students choosing total remote learning by Aug. 30.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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