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Information about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

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: April 3, 2020 at 9:59 am