Area Catholic school students will not lose their graduation ceremonies to the COVID-9 virus, despite Ontario’s State of Emergency and mandated school closures until at least May 29.

The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic School Board will instead hold convocation celebrations in the fall for its secondary school graduates, if it is safe to gather at that time. Grade 8 school graduation ceremonies have also been postponed.

“These moments in the life of our students will be remembered for years,” said Chair of the Board, Rick Petrella.

“It is important for us to honour their accomplishments, so I believe that holding these events, when it is safe to do so, is important.”

Scholarships, bursaries, and awards will proceed as planned. All recipients will be notified by their schools and all monetary entitlements will be disbursed by June 30. Students will be recognized and receive the physical awards at the fall ceremonies.

The Board has however, decided to cancel all upcoming food orders, excursions, and year-end trips. Board and school staff are working on the refund process and hope to provide reimbursements to families as soon as possible.

The Continuity of Learning Plan and commitment by the board and families to work together to support all children has helped ensure the success of students and enabled everyone to participate in learning, in one form or another, the board states in a press release.

In response to the need for technology, as highlighted by the Ministry of Education, over 400 laptops or tablets have been distributed to families. The distribution took place over the last two weeks and now all families who indicated they required devices, have received them so their children can access online learning.

As well, families who required printed learning materials from their teachers due to either lack of internet service or as additional supports, have received them.

Students have been working on those lessons that will be picked up this week and returned to their teachers for review as the new cycle of printed materials are being dropped off at their homes.

“The Board’s Continuity of Learning Plan includes material for all students,” said Director of Education, Mike McDonald.

“Staff’s ability to coordinate the device distribution process and also have printed materials safely delivered to, and picked up from, family homes has been remarkable.”

BHNCDSB provides support to nearly 1000 students a year, who experience social, emotional and/ or behavioural concerns that impact their school functioning.

Recognizing many of the students came into the COVID crisis with certain vulnerabilities, staff have been reaching out via phone or email to do wellness checks. In addition to checking in with the students themselves, many discussions with parents or caregivers have occurred, particularly with regards to how families are coping.

The team is equipped with information to quickly help people access services that might be essential, including information for food resources, housing, and access to community mental health services.

Families can provide feedback to the Board in respect to needs that they may have and how the Board can help, via a survey that is open until Monday, May 4, 2020. This feedback will help drive staff initiatives to provide the supports their students require.

Although the Board’s main office is closed, office staff work remotely to ensure the functions of the district, including vendor payments for past work, the stability of networks by Information Technology and family and student supports, continue.