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Hamilton’s public school board cancels final exams, changes some graduation requirements

Hamilton's public school board is easing some graduation requirements and cancelling final exams for high school students.
Hamilton's public school board is easing some graduation requirements and cancelling final exams for high school students. Don Mitchell / Global News

Hamilton’s public school board is making some changes for high school students to ease the burden of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to families, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board director of education Manny Figueiredo said final exams will be cancelled for all high school students for both semesters this year, with student grades to be determined by “specific learning activities” and assignments, as well as any final projects that demonstrate what the student has learned overall.

The board will also ease certain graduation requirements, including cutting the number of compulsory volunteer hours from 40 to 20 and not requiring students who are graduating this year to complete the Grade 10 literacy test.

Although Grade 9 students will still be taking the EQAO math test, the result won’t be used as part of a student’s final course mark in math — unless the student and teacher agree it ought to be used — because of the new format for the test this year.

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Figueiredo said the changes were made after the board received feedback from families, students and staff.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board is operating on an ‘octomester’ model of eight separate semesters and will also not have final exams this year.

Pat Daly, director of education for the Catholic board, said students will still be expected to complete 40 hours of Christian Service, but added that principals will have “discretion” to determine whether some students may be struggling to meet that requirement due to the pandemic.

Read more: Hamilton’s school board asks families to prepare for closures amid on-going pandemic

During an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show, Figueiredo said he’s concerned about a spike in COVID-19 cases among students after the winter holidays.

He says the data shows that the virus isn’t spreading within schools, with very few cases among the 40,000 students attending in person.

“I keep on saying — schools are some of the safest places. What I do worry about is the community spread that comes into our schools.”

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As of Wednesday morning, there have been 47 cases of COVID-19 among students at Hamilton’s public schools, and 15 among staff.

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Figueiredo said contact tracing determined that many of the new cases within public schools after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend were attributed to family gatherings, and he said he’s worried that a potential spike in cases will be even worse after a two-week break.

“All I can speak to is — what we learned from the Thanksgiving weekend — is that incubation period of five to seven days. It was a week or two that we started to see the number of cases really start to increase in our system. Prior to that, we had very few in September and early October.”

Read more: Extending winter school break ‘not necessary,’ Ontario education minister says

 

Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce announced on Wednesday that there would be no extended winter break for students after consulting with the province’s top doctor and its public health measures table.

In a statement, Lecce said the government will continue to consider all options when it comes to keeping schools open in January and beyond.

The minister said Tuesday that the province was considering prolonging the winter break or starting the new year with a stretch of online learning to reduce the risk of transmission following the holidays.

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Daly said he was “relieved” to hear Lecce’s statement on Wednesday about the winter break not being extended.

“Because my own view is that clearly, any decision like that should be based on the reality at that time, and direction from public health, locally and provincially.”