Hamilton public and Catholic school boards are preparing for a personal return on Jan. 3

Hamilton’s public and Catholic school boards are set to welcome students back into the classrooms in the new year next week.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board spokesman Shawn McKillop told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday that the plan is to return to personal learning on Jan. 3, “unless we hear otherwise.”

“As you know, there has been no provincial announcement from the Department of Education or the Chief Medical Officer of Health to close or move to distance learning after the break,” he said.

“We will of course contact you if there is a change in the operation of the school.”

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board Chairman Pat Daly also said the board expects students to return to school.

“Personal learning is definitely best for students,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

“We always procrastinate on public health experts … if they think it’s safe to do so, we definitely think children are better off in school.”

CBC Hamilton is awaiting a response from local French school boards and the province.

However, at a tour of a workplace vaccination clinic Tuesday in Mississauga, Prime Minister Doug Ford said a announcement about schools would come “in the next few days.”

“We just want to see how things go and of course talk to that chief physician,” he said.

The news comes as COVID-19’s Omicron variant continues to infect Hamiltonians at record speeds. Public Health reported 402 new cases on Tuesday and a new death, although the true number of cases is considered to be greatly underreported right now.

In previous waves, schools have been forced to stop personal learning and move to complete distance learning, which has sent school boards, families and students into a mass struggle.

The pandemic has also disrupted students’ learning and affected the mental health of both students and educators, with at least one of the latter describing the recent school year as “the hardest year of my life.”

Hamilton’s health workers have previously said keeping schools open is a priority, though many have struggled with outbreaks.

Of the 35 active outbreaks reported by Hamilton Public Health on Monday, 13 were in local schools. All but one of them were declared before December 26th.

Students stood in front of St. Peter & Paul Catholic Elementary School in September starts the first day of school after months of distance learning. In the new year, students must return to the classrooms again. (Bobby Hristova / CBC)

Public health has also tried to increase the vaccination rate among young people.

Public health data show that 83 percent of Hamiltonians ages 12 to 17 have one dose and 79 percent have two. Less than one percent of them have a booster shot.

About 35 percent of children ages five to 11 have one dose, and less than one percent have two.

There has also been a sharp difference in vaccination rates among schools where religious schools see lower vaccination rates than non-religious schools.

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