Niagara school boards prepare for possible winter break extension

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The two Niagara school boards say they may extend the winter break and switch students to online learning if the province’s Ministry of Education announces a shutdown of in-person learning due to growing COVID-19 cases across the province.

Students are expected to return to classes on Jan. 4 after the holiday break, which starts at the end of school this Friday. Both the District School Board of Niagara and Niagara Catholic District School Board said Thursday if the Ontario Ministry of Education makes a decision over the holidays to switch to remote learning on Jan. 4, they are ready.

Numbers of new daily COVID-19 cases have been breaking records in recent weeks in Ontario. Four regions are in grey lockdown, including Toronto, Peel, York, and Windsor-Essex. Many regions have been inching up the provincial set tiers with ever-tightening requirements to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Ontario has reported 4,058 COVID-19 related deaths. 919 people are hospitalized. 263 are in hospital ICUs.

As of Thursday afternoon, Niagara Region is in the orange-restrict tier, but with new daily cases surging over 50 in recent days, it could be pushed into the red-control tier. Today 44 news cases were reported in the region. Ontario reported 2,432 new COVID-19 cases Thursday morning, the largest number in the province since the pandemic began in March.

Updates on possible tier movements is expected Friday afternoon from the Ministry of Health officials.

“The Ministry of Education or Public Health may decide to extend the winter break beyond
Jan. 4 for students. If the break is extended, I would like to reassure you that the DSBN is prepared to move to a remote learning environment for your child,” said Warren Hoshizaki, DSBN Director of Education wrote, in a letter to student families Thursday.

A similar message came from Niagara Catholic Thursday afternoon. “While we do not normally speculate, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. We wanted our families whose children attend school in-person to be as prepared for a switch to virtual learning on Jan. 4,” a Niagara Catholic advisory said.

At the DSBN, in the case of a holiday extension, elementary students will have access to learning materials through the website. Homeroom teachers will also connect with their students during the first week of January. DSBN secondary students will continue to learn through the online component of their courses.

If the break is not extended, the first day of school will remain Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 for both school boards.

–With files from Andy Walker