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Information about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Letter to families about school re-entry in September 2020, June 23, 2020

Dear Students, Parents/Guardians, Families and Staff:

I wish to begin this letter by acknowledging all of you, every one of our students, our families and,  of course, our staff. We are all part of a bigger community, and so in acknowledging each of you, I also pay homage to the fact that we could not have made it through these several months of the COVID-19 pandemic without one another.

As we approach the end of the 2019-2020 school year, I acknowledge that many questions remain, some that none of us have ever encountered or even anticipated.

Admittedly, as the Director of Education and as an educator for over 25 years, I candidly share that I feel the same way. We must prepare for multiple scenarios and be ready to activate school re-entry plans quickly to respect public health, and the safety of our students and staff. These approaches will allow us to provide educational experiences that inspire learning, motivate our students to explore and assure families that we will be able to support their children.

Last week the Minister of Education announced that all Ontario school boards are required to be ready for September 2020 with three scenarios and to submit them to the Ministry of Education. I want to assure you that the Senior Administration and staff of the HPEDSB have been planning for this re-entry and the potential environments we may face for several months.

The scenarios that we are preparing for include the following:

  1. a return to a conventional (or traditional), regular classroom instruction, with health and safety requirements;
  2. a continuation of remote learning, including the use of live online instruction that incorporates a synchronous delivery between teacher and students; and
  3. an adapted hybrid delivery model where students return to class combined with online learning that is in accordance with public health requirements and limits the number of students in the physical classroom to a maximum of 15.

In addition to this intensive planning, we are also required and prepared to move quickly and seamlessly between these models depending on the situation of the COVID-19 virus spread, and in close consultation with public health and provincial directives.

It is perhaps most important to add that above all else and regardless of what model we are required to be prepared for in September, that as parents/guardians and families, the decision to send your child to school remains your choice. The HPEDSB respects parental decisions about whether you are comfortable sending your children to school.

Lastly, I appreciate that some are feeling uncertainty and anxiety at this time given the unknown nature of what the future may hold. Please do not feel pressured to have a family plan determined now for a future that is two months away. We are all experiencing the same uncertainties and will face them as we have over the past four months.

I reassure you that we will continue to work hard and be ready for any reality, and that we will communicate our actions and plans openly and transparently.

We will continue to provide updates on our website and social media streams, in addition to other media sources, such as radio and print.

In closing, I feel it imperative to speak to a concern that many educators and I have: the mental health and emotional well-being of our students, their families and our staff. This has been an incredibly difficult time in our history and we will no doubt face more challenges. Even so, I am confident we will address them with unwavering resolve and will always centre our actions around the needs of our kids.

Our website, www.HPEschools.ca contains the most current information including tips sheets for families and educators, and perhaps most important, contact information for Kids Help Phone.

Stay safe, stay healthy and stay positive.

Sincerely,

Sean Monteith
Director of Education

Minister of Education letter to parents about return to school in September 2020, June 19, 2020

Dear Parents—

I write to you as we are just a couple weeks away from the official end to the 2019-2020 school year. Despite the challenges that we have all faced in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been inspired by your determination and spirit. I know that it has not been easy, but your commitment to supporting your children over the last several months has been reaffirming, constructive and exceptionally encouraging. We will continue to safeguard the well-being of your children and preserve the continuation of learning. Your role as parents and guardians is critical to making this a reality.

We know that the start to the next school year may not look or feel the same as it did just 10 months ago.

Earlier today, I announced our government’s plan for the safe reopening of schools. While Ontario is clearly on a positive trajectory in terms of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak, my objective is to make sure that the education system is safely prepared for all potential scenarios come September. With that in mind, I have directed all school boards to plan for three scenarios:

  • A return to conventional, regular classroom instruction, with health and safety requirements,
  • A continuation of remote learning, including the use of live, synchronous online instruction, and;
  • An adapted delivery model that enables students to return to class with blended virtual learning, that includes health and safety requirements that will limit the maximum number of students to 15 per class.

We hope that public health situation will continue to improve and allow school boards to enter a conventional classroom experience, once it is safe to do so. Local and regional health authorities – in conjunction with a Ministry of Education established table of medical experts – will help shape the way forward, to ensure the realities on the ground within your communities are best reflected.

While school boards will develop their plans based on the ministry’s guidance, I want to express some of the underlying principles that we used in issuing these instructions to boards.

First, we must recognize that choice that you as parents must have. You made this clear to me, and we are ensuring you get to make that choice. Any participation in in-person class will be voluntary. We will strengthen our Learn At Home program, provide greater access to technology for more families, and stand-up for regularized, synchronous live learning that clearly benefits your child. Our government will continue to stand up for parents and insist on this impactful experience.

Second, this plan was developed with the health and safety of your child, staff, and your families as our top priority. It is why the government announced net new funding for cleaning, cleaning protocols, and financial support to hire additional custodial staff in September, to ensure schools are safe. It is also why our plan was created following extensive consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, health experts on the COVID-19 Command Table, medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children, education sector partners, front-line workers, parents and students.

Third, our government is investing in record levels to support student mental health. We are investing $10 million in new additional funding for the coming school year alone, to help school boards ensure they are proactively supporting students given the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and well-being. This year, students will have unprecedented direct access to regulated mental health professionals, as our government invests a record nearly $50 million in support of student well-being. Medical experts have been clear, there is a need for enhanced mental health supports to respond to COVID-19. This funding can be used by school boards to hire additional mental health workers to support students through this adversity, reduce wait times, and improve access to critical services, that we know students deserve.

The school restart plan also prioritizes supports for students with special education needs, including advance planning for a smooth transition to school, a requirement that Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Identification, Placement and Review Committees (IPRCs) are followed, along with the direction that boards plan for full-time in-class instruction for students with the most significant levels of needs. We are also asking boards to work with local partners including Children’s Treatment Centres so that students have access to the supports they need to succeed.

Fourth, we saw families rise to the challenge and adapt quickly while we rolled out the Learn at Home program. This plan will provide new online course content and digital tools, and provide other resources for educators to support continuous learning for students in the coming school year. We also know that we must do more to so that all students have greater access to technology, and for all schools have access to internet.

This week, I announced $15 million to assist school boards in purchasing devices and further embracing the digital age. This new funding will be directed to securing up to 35,000 classroom computers and ensuring students have the tools to succeed in the upcoming school year.

Fifth, today I announced that the government is spending more in education than ever before. This year, the Grants for Student Needs has increased by a record $736 million. We are investing record amounts in mental health, special education, technology, and overall –every school board will benefit from a funding increase – as we prepare for the year ahead.

We will never waver in our commitment to Ontario’s students – to their health and safety –to supporting them on their learning journey – and to set them up to succeed for the future.

Thank you to Ontario parents, education staff, and communities for your support, ideas, and commitment to the safety of our schools and the success of students.

Have a positive summer,

The Honourable Stephen Lecce
Minister of Education

Letter to families about schools remaining closed, continuity of learning, May 19, 2020

Dear Students, Parents/Guardians, Families and Staff:

As I have with every one of my letters to you through the past two and half months, it is incumbent to begin by wishing that all of you are safe, healthy and remain hopeful. We have nothing if we do not have our health and our families; and it is both of these critical pieces of our lives that will carry us through these incredibly challenging times. As you read this important update, please remind yourself of this: health, family and loved ones, responsibility to community . . . and then education.

Today, the Ontario government announced it is keeping schools closed for the rest of this school year. This decision was made after consulting with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, health experts on the COVID-19 Command Table, and medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children.

Last week, the Minister of Education gave all school boards and Directors of Education an update on provincial “continuity of learning.” For us in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, at the outset of this pandemic the priority was and continues to be the education for all our students and support for all our families. This support it must be mentioned, also was required to be extended and assured to all our staff, who like families share similar challenges and concerns for the future.

At the HPEDSB we have continued for the past 10 weeks to insist, that in spite of learning from home and remote learning regardless of where you live across the district, we are entirely committed to continuing to provide learning, and prioritizing learning as our main focus. Assessment, grading, marks and reporting, while important for learning for both students and their families, as well as staff, is and will remain different from the traditional sense.

It is equally important to publicly reaffirm this commitment to learning opportunities for all our students, and with clear expectations that our staff not just reach out to families, but reach all our families; this commitment is unwavering and we are resolved in meeting it. How we are providing learning and what that experience looks like and feels like, will be different than what we are all used to in the traditional sense; and this includes myself not only as the Director of Education, but as a father of two sons who continue to benefit from our public education system.

Like all educators and parents together what we want for our own children, is what we want for all Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board students. With this in mind, our approach to virtual learning remains in effect, our emphasis on student-teacher contact unchanged, and our commitment to supporting the whole needs of our families unwavering.

In short, our focus remains on learning and ensuring we are reaching all our students, and to that end I am proud of our staff and families and how we have all responded together. Our website, www.HPEschools.ca contains the most current information including tips sheets for families and educators, and perhaps most important, contact information for Kids Help Phone.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay positive,

Sean Monteith
Director of Education

Minister of Education letter to parents about extended school closures, April 28, 2020

Dear Parents,

I sincerely hope that you, your children, and your families are staying safe and healthy during this unprecedented time.

Over these past weeks, our government has been inspired by you and your children’s eagerness and flexibility in transitioning toward remote learning. We know that this has not been easy, especially with the profound impact COVID-19 has had on your lives and livelihood. The ability to keep our students engaged in their learning journey has been remarkable.

As the Ontario Minister of Education, I am committed to keeping you informed about new developments regarding the impacts of COVID-19, especially when it comes to child care, early learning programs and the status of the current school year. Our government will continue to support you and your children during this difficult period.
Our government’s foremost priority is the safety and well-being of every child and every student, and those who nurture and support them. In considering any options for welcoming students back to an in-class model of learning, our decisions will be based on safety, consistency and the guidance of public health officials. We have been clear and unwavering in our commitment to ensure every measure is taken to protect students’ health and safety before re-entering a classroom.

With that principle in mind, our government has ordered that all public schools in the province will remain closed to students until at least May 31, 2020.

The expert advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and the COVID-19 Command Table informed our decision. While the modelling that public health experts recently presented shows we are making progress, we are not at a stage in our fight against COVID-19 where students can safely and confidently return to their classrooms.

I know this news is frustrating for many of you. The compassion and commitment of Ontario’s parents have been constant. Since we first announced the suspension of in-person learning on March 12, we have heard from parents across the province on how they are doing their best to encourage continued learning with their children. Parents and families have been an incredible source of comfort as children react uniquely to this global outbreak.

Since the beginning of school closures, our plan for the continuity of learning has evolved significantly and successfully. Most recently, we reintroduced teacher-led learning in the province and students are now being assigned work and resources for continuing their education.

As part of this plan, we have outlined expectations for student work-time in a given week based on learning materials and work assigned by your child’s teacher. I want to emphasize that no student will have their graduation jeopardized by the current outbreak.

Our government has set out the following minimum suggested standard for instruction:

  • Kindergarten to Grade 3: Five hours of work per student per week, with a focus on literacy and math;
  • Grades 4 to 6: Five hours of work per week, with a focus on literacy, math, science, and social studies;
  • Grades 7 to 8: 10 hours of work per week, with a focus on math, literacy, science and social studies; and,
  • Grades 9 to 12: Three hours of work per course per week for semestered students, and 1.5 hours of work per course per week for non-semestered students, with a focus on credit accumulation and graduation.

While it is understandable that there are going to be differences in educational experience during this period, my expectation is that all students will be supported and engaged by their teachers and other education workers. We want to thank educators who have embraced these unusual circumstances to ensure their students continue having every opportunity to excel and achieve their potential. If you have concerns related to the sufficiency of the assigned work or the need for enhanced contact, you are encouraged to reach out to your principal or school board. We want to do everything we can during this outbreak to ensure our students receive a quality learning experience.

To maximize the instructional time for your children, we are converting remaining Professional Activity (PA) and examination days into instructional time. This would ensure that your children remain engaged and learning for the greatest number of days possible during this school year. Perhaps now more than ever, every bit of instructional time matters even if it means just one or two days.

While we try to facilitate instructional time during the school closure period, one of the challenges many families experience is that, even in our digitally-connected age, some students do not have access to the Internet or the technology to access Learn at Home.

I’m pleased to inform you that the Government of Ontario is working with Rogers Communications and Apple to help meet the educational needs of students and families during the COVID-19 outbreak. To date, over 21,000 iPad devices, pre-equipped with free Rogers LTE wireless data have been purchased and distributed to families in need by school boards, with the over $75 million provided by the provincial government through the Grants for Student Needs. In addition, Apple is providing on-going support in French and English to teachers, parents and students, with a collection of resources to support learning and working from home. These 21,000 delivered devices are in addition to the over 200,000 computers and tablets that school boards have provided to students in need during this period.

Rogers is also working with Ontario school boards to provide high-speed, low-cost Internet to subsidized tenants and members of housing partners across Ontario through its Connected for Success program, as well as the Government of Canada Connecting Families initiative.

Partnerships like this – between school boards and tech firms like Rogers Communications and Apple – truly showcase the spirit of Ontario.

While we remain committed to meeting students’ needs in the current school year, our government has already started planning for the 2020-2021 school year. While this school year was certainly unlike anything we have seen before, we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that school may not look or feel the same come September.

With the safety and well-being of your children as our guiding principle, let me assure you that schools, child care centres, and school buses will be required to undergo thorough deep cleaning before being ready to welcome students and early learners back into their physical spaces. Despite the extremely minimal contact risk posed after this length of closure, we want to allow every student to feel safe and confident as they return to school.

In terms of instruction, we will be unveiling our proposed plan for an expanded summer learning program that will enable students to continue their learning through the summer, if desired. While over 100,000 students typically participate in summer learning, we know that many more students may wish to continue their teacher-led learning after this school year formally ends. This proposed plan for expanded summer learning would focus on credit recovery, a new option to upgrade courses, and a focus on gap-closing programs and supports for vulnerable students.

Our government understands that the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in unsettling times for children. We must continue to pay close attention to the emotional and mental health needs of all students, even if there are no immediate signs of distress.

To that end, our government has directed school boards to ensure mental health workers and professional staff engage with students immediately, as needed, in a secure and safe conversation. We want you to know there are many organizations that provide critical support for children facing mental health concerns or distress. For example, Kids Help Phone offers 24/7 counselling and referral services across the province. To use this free resource, children can call 1-800-668-6868, or text CONNECT to 686868.

Child care centres and EarlyON Child and Family Programs continue to be closed until at least May 6, 2020. I can assure you the health and safety of your children will be paramount as we make decisions about re-opening and we support Ontario’s outbreak response and recovery plan.

I want to express my appreciation to the teachers and education workers who have been adapting to these new circumstances and doing their best to deliver learning and supports for our students. While we cannot guarantee what the “new normal” will look like in our child care and education systems, I promise you; no decision will be made that does not answer “yes” to the following question: does this promote the health, safety, and well-being of our children and students?

There is simply no question — and no answer —more important.

Stay safe,

The Honourable Stephen Lecce
Minister of Education

Letter to families about learning at home and access to technology, April 7, 2020

Dear Students, Parents/Guardians, Families and Staff:

In these uncertain times, I want to let you know that, first and foremost, our thoughts continue to be the health of everyone in our HPEDSB family. We urge you to continue practicing physical distancing in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

I am communicating with our entire school community to share primarily two key messages. The first is to inform you of what is happening this week and in the weeks ahead, in terms of your child’s learning and progress, and teacher contact with all of our students. I will also speak to accessing technology, for families who may require assistance.

Our teachers and school principals/vice-principals are eager to reconnect and re-engage with their students. By now, your child’s teacher will have contacted you about what to anticipate for learning expectations. This is in response to a letter to parents from the Minister of Education last week. The letter outlined the minimum expectations for teachers to provide school work/learning materials, which are as follows:

  • JK-Grade 6 will be provided with 5 hours of work per student, per week;
  • Grades 7-8 will be provided with 10 hours of work per student, per week; and
  • Grades 9-12 will be provided with 3 hours per course, per student, per week.

I also want you to know that we are aware of many families who have limited access to, or are totally without technology at home. Principals have been in touch with families who they know could use assistance in this area. As a result, next week we will be distributing school-owned Chromebooks to our most needy families on a loaner basis. I want to reassure our families and students that any laptop or Chromebook that is loaned to you will have undergone a cleaning and met the required local public health cleansing protocol before being distributed.

The other matter I wish to raise is parent/staff expectations of their children learning at home, and ensuring that report cards, marks/grades and assessment (as it might have occurred in the normal classroom experience) are approached from a very non-traditional perspective. We are not living, working, teaching and learning in the “regular” classroom environment. Assignments, lessons and assessments are going to look very different. While we maintain high expectations, it is a cause of great concern for me, as Director of Education, that the stress level in households is exponentially increasing during these incredibly challenging times.

Calls to the Kids-Help Phone have increased in recent weeks by 350% nationally and calls provincially to domestic violence centres are seeing dramatic spikes. The last thing our families need is an additional stressor by feeling that their children are not keeping up, or have concerns about marks. I ask—both as a teacher myself and as a father—for all of us to do the best we can to be reasonable and understand that every one of us is working in very challenging environments.

We must never lose perspective that our kids need us to be there for them, now more than ever.

image of Learning at Home newspaper ad
Look in your free community newspaper this week and in the weeks to come for a full-page colour ad with No-Tech Learning Activities of the Week.

We, at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, will continue to establish clear parameters and support structures for our staff, families and our students. In doing this, we need to always be mindful of what is reasonable to expect and what is reasonable to ask of our kids in this environment. As a colleague once reminded, “We only come this way once.” Let’s remember that kids are kids.

To support families and students, we continue to make available two at-home learning/engagement options: one is our HPEDSB Learning at Home website and the other is our full-page, colour ads in the free weekly community newspapers. The resources and activities at both are educator created and verified, and are listed by grade. The newspaper ads, in particular, feature a series of language and mathematics activities for K-12 that can easily be done at home. Both the online resources and newspaper ads are available at the above link.

Our website, www.HPEschools.ca contains the most current information we have about COVID-19, including tips sheets for families and educators, links to public health agencies, and perhaps most important, contact information for Kids Help Phone.

I encourage you to keep in touch with your child’s teacher(s), as they care about your child’s learning and engagement. Stay safe and be well.

Sincerely,

Sean Monteith
Director of Education

Minister of Education letter to parents about the next phase of Learn at Home, March 31, 2020

Dear Parents,

 

I am writing to you today exactly two weeks since our government declared a State of Emergency in the province.

I know this period has not been easy for you or your children, especially as the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak begin to have increasing effects on your day-to-day lives and livelihoods.

The battle against COVID-19 has not been easy, but I continue to be incredibly inspired by the bravery and steadfastness you and your children have demonstrated in our efforts to stop the spread of this outbreak. Since Cabinet made the decision to close the public-school system on March 12, we have seen cascading steps taken by the public and private sectors to protect our most vulnerable.

I want to assure you that, as Minister of Education, the health and safety of your children remains our government’s utmost priority; there is simply no priority more critical. Every decision we make is rooted in the fundamental commitment to safeguard your children’s well-being. We are incredibly grateful for the considerable understanding and flexibility you and your children have shown during this period of school closure.

With that commitment in mind, today our government decided to extend the closure of public schools in the province to May 4, along with child care centres and private schools until April 13. In ordinary times, this would be a difficult decision. However, given that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health concurs that this is in the best interest of you and your children’s’ health, this decision was clear and obvious.

While this announcement is consistent with public health policy, I know that this will raise questions about what your children will be doing over the coming weeks with regards to their education, as in-school instruction will not be taking place.

Today, I was proud to announce our government’s plan for the next phase of Learn at Home and how we are supporting students, families, and educators during this period.

To start, we have instructed school boards that, by Monday, April 6, teacher-led learning will resume across the province. Students will begin receiving communication from their teachers and school board staff this week to determine the best way your child can continue learning during this period. For our youngest learners, especially, I am asking you to lend a helping-hand in facilitating these initial conversations with educators when they begin reaching out. This early communication will help ensure all students can participate actively and fully in the rich online learning strategy. We have designed the strategy based on the technology and resources that currently exist at home.

I also know many families in the province may not have access to the technology and broadband connection needed to participate fully in online learning. To remedy this situation, our government has instructed local school boards to offer their existing inventory of computers and devices to students who do not have in-home access. Boards will work with the Ministry to develop a plan to expand the technology to those who need it. I also want to recognize that boards have explored alternative options for students’ access to technology, including engaging in regular conversations with telecommunications providers to determine what options exist to allow families to access Ontario’s world-leading online learning resources.

This is especially necessary for rural and remote communities where connections might not be optimal. I will update you as these conversations regarding technology and broadband options continue to evolve.
As part of this plan for online learning, our government has outlined the minimum expectations for student work-time in a given week based on learning materials and work assigned by your student’s teacher. These expectations, for each teacher, include:

  • Kindergarten to grade three: Five hours of work per student per week, with a focus on literacy and math;
  • Grades four to six: Five hours of work per week, with a focus on literacy, math, science, and social studies;
  • Grades seven to eight: 10 hours of work per week, with a focus on math, literacy, science and social studies; and,
  • Grades nine to 12: Three hours of work per course per week for semestered students, and 1.5 hours of work per course per week for non-semestered students, with a focus on credit accumulation and graduation.

Based on these expectations, this second phase of LearnAtHome will require students to adopt academic discipline and commitment to ensure that they can experience continued academic growth and achievement. I know our students are up to the task.

While these are unprecedented times, I encourage you to support and enable your children to fully commit to the strong learning program we have created for this period of school closure. Your support, inspiration, and motivation will continue to prepare your children to succeed in their learning journey.

I know this period is concerning for parents of students in a graduating cohort. I have said before, and I want to reiterate: no student will have their graduation jeopardized by the developments of COVID-19. I am working closely with the Honourable Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities, and the post-secondary sector. Our government will ensure students, who plan on entering college or university in September 2020, have our full support to accomplish this goal.

As students continue to accumulate credits during this closure period, we will provide further information about how students can align with the post-secondary application process in the coming weeks.

I understand parents with children who may have special education needs, have concerns about at-home learning and the physical absence of educational support staff and resources during this period. I am firmly and unequivocally committed to ensuring that all students continue to have access to the wrap-around supports that promote continued learning and development.

Our government has instructed boards to enable immediate restoration of communication between students and educational assistants, paraprofessionals, and other education workers to reintroduce the continuity of professional support to students. We will not allow any student to fall through the cracks during this unprecedented time. My Ministry is equipping educators with the tools and supports they need to maximize the opportunities and achievements of all learners in the province in an online setting.

While much of the discourse around COVID-19 focuses on the impacts on physical health, I want to acknowledge the significant effects this outbreak may be having on the mental health of Ontarians. Particularly, our youngest learners may be struggling to fully understand and process what it means to their lives, families, friends, and communities. This may very well be a time of fear and anxiety for your child, even if it is not readily apparent.

While you and your children may have many questions about what the future holds, I want to express my heartfelt hope that all children know there are a variety of supports to help process and overcome the multitude of emotions and reactions they may be facing during this period. Our government has directed school boards to ensure mental health workers and professional staff are ready to engage with students immediately in a secure and safe conversation. We continue to support the incredible work being done to provide wrap-around counselling and resources to students across the province.

We have numerous organizations providing critical and professional support for children facing mental health concerns or distress. For example, Kids Help Phone offers 24/7 counselling and referral services across the province. To use this free resource, children can call 1-800-668-6868, or text CONNECT to 686868.

As we move forward in the next phase of school closure, the expectations of parents, guardians, students, educators, and my Ministry will continue to rise. Having already met countless driven and determined students, educators, and educational workers across the province, I know that we are ready to meet the challenges ahead.

To you, and your child, I want to extend my sincere and unwavering commitment to ensuring every student in the province can continue learning in Ontario’s world-class education system. Our collective commitment to inspiring, supporting, and uplifting our future leaders during this time is unwavering.

Sincerely,

The Honourable Stephen Lecce
Minister of Education

Letter to families and employees regarding extended-school-closures, March 31, 2020

Dear Students, Parents/Guardians, Families and Staff:

Let me start by sharing that, as an experienced educator in Ontario for the past three decades, I have never seen nor experienced anything quite like what we are going through now in public education. But perhaps more importantly, and more meaningful to most of you, as a father of two sons, I am sharing the same concerns and conversations that many of you are having. It is a time that we will look back on years from now, and talk about how we managed to work through it, how we became closer as a community, and I hope, how we, as families, became closer, as well. As I have remarked numerous times in the last few weeks, we are witnessing and living history in real-time, right before our eyes.

Earlier today, I participated in a conference call with the Minister of Education, Deputy Minister of Education, other Directors of Education in the province and Chairs of Ontario school boards. The nature of the call was to communicate expectations and provide direction as we prepare for a prolonged closure of all schools.

Today the Premier announced that all Ontario school boards are to close schools to teachers until
May 1, 2020 and students until May 4, 2020. This unprecedented closure is based on the advice and evidence of the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health. There is no further information at this time regarding whether the closures will go past that date. The decision is solely based on ensuring and protecting the health and safety of the people of Ontario, including students, staff, families and our communities.

We, at the HPEDSB, realize that these closures present numerous challenges for learning, including having access to technology, graduations and the student school experience, in general. I also recognize that you have many questions, and I commit to all of you that we will try to answer and communicate information that is prudent, factual, and responsive to our school communities.

 Accordingly, the HPEDSB is taking the following actions at this time:

  • changing our entire approach to providing education and way of doing business during this extended school closure period;
  • providing a robust and credible continuity of learning environment that will be different from the regular classroom experience by utilizing technology, virtual and online learning, and remote teacher-student contact;
  • developing a plan for controlled access to schools to allow staff to retrieve professional materials and learning supplies, and families to access student personal belongings;
  • making available an inventory of credible online learning resources through our HPEDSB Learning at Home website for families to use at home, and staff and students to be able to use during this closure period; and
  • effective immediately, making available, through ads in weekly community newspapers, educator-created learning activities that do not require screen time or technology.

I recognize that you want to know more about the short- and long-term future of education and the many related concerns, such as supporting your children with special needs, accessing technology at home, teacher-student contact time, the future of students who are on track to graduate this June and even co-op placements. We are working very hard to address all of these scenarios during the most challenging situation many of us have faced, and amid a constantly changing environment.

We, at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, also recognize that many of you are facing challenges in accessing food, clothing, technology and even safe housing. We accept that, throughout this time, the role of HPEDSB is changing and that we are being called upon, more and more, to assist in providing basic necessities for an increasing number of our families. We commit to serving this social responsibility.

The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board also strongly believes that our decisions must be made through an equity perspective.

My staff and I are committed to maintaining communication, timely updates, and clear and supportive actions under these incredibly challenging times. As I said in a previous letter home to families and staff, we need to safeguard the following priorities in this order of importance:

  1. our health, and the health of our families and loved ones;
  2. our safety and the basic necessities we are fortunate to have, and that others may not have;
  3. our responsibility to each other, especially our most vulnerable; and
  4. our children’s education and their academic needs.

With your support and the support of my team, we will approach a very uncertain future together, but one that we will overcome together, buoyed by resiliency and the strength of our families and communities.

I ask that you take all the necessary precautions and safety measures, and I wish you to all take very good care of yourself and each other.

Sincerely,

Sean Monteith
Director of Education

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Letter to families and employees regarding novel coronavirus, March 9, 2020

To HPEDSB Families, Guardians and All Staff:

The health and safety of all students and employees is our top priority. We are working collaboratively with both the regional public health authority and our co-terminus school boards to remain proactive in our response and sensitivity to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) situation and your possible concerns.

At this time, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) continues to advise that the risk to the public remains low. Also, HPEPH advises that, as of now, there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in our region.

At this time, the following actions are being taken at HPEDSB schools and administrative buildings to help prevent the spread of infection:

  • increased environmental cleaning (using a low-level disinfectant), with particular attention to high-touch surfaces such as desks, door knobs, light switches, phones;
  • additional education to school populations regarding infection control strategies, such as importance of hand hygiene and proper respiratory etiquette; and
  • providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer for front entrances and non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer for classrooms (with supervised access).

Public health also recommends the following infection control strategies for everyone:

  • wash your hands frequently using soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
  • cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm, not into your hand;
  • if you use a tissue, throw it away immediately and wash your hands;
  • avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands;
  • get plenty of rest, eat healthy and stay physically active to keep your immune system strong;
  • stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with other people until you are better;
  • if you suspect you are sick, avoid visiting people in long-term care, or individuals with health concerns; and
  • if you are seeking medical care and are experiencing respiratory symptoms, always put on a mask when you arrive to help protect others.

We are committed to providing you with updates as we receive new information. The most current information about COVID-19 is on our website at www.HPEschools.ca, including links to local, provincial and national public health agencies.

Additional resources are available at the HPEPH website https://hpepublichealth.ca/. You can also call the Infectious and Communicable Diseases Program intake line at 613-966-5500 x349, talk to your doctor or call Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000.

Thank you for your support as we work to minimize the risk and spread of COVID-19.

Sincerely,

Sean Monteith
Director of Education

Reference documents 

More information

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Updated February 12, 2020 to include another reference document.

January 30, 2020—Information about the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus is being shared through school boards on behalf of local, provincial and national public health agencies.

Outside Canada, a new virus (2019-Novel Coronavirus) not previously seen in humans, has been reported as the cause of several cases of pneumonia originating in Wuhan, China. This virus has spread from animals to humans and also between humans. Symptoms of this illness have ranged from mild cold-like symptoms to severe illness with fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia. Cases of the new virus have now been reported in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the United States.

The risk to Canadians is deemed to be low at this time; however, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health is in continuous contact with Public Health Ontario and the Ministry of Health to monitor the situation. We are working proactively with local health care providers, hospitals, and schools to prepare for any potential cases, and to protect our community.

Preventing the spread of illness
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health provides these reminders of some key ways to prevent the spread of infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm, not into your hand
  • If you use a tissue, throw it away immediately and wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with your hands
  • Clean objects/surfaces that a lot of people touch (door handles, phones, light switches, desks)
  • Get plenty of rest, eat healthy and stay physically active to keep your immune system strong
  • Get your influenza vaccine
  • Stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with other people until your symptoms are gone
  • If you suspect you are sick, avoid visiting people in long term care, or individuals with health concerns

Reference documents 

More information

Or contact the Communicable and Infectious Disease Program at Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, 613-966-5500, extension 349

Last updated: June 23, 2020 at 4:45 pm
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