Absenteeism up across school division

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Virtually every institution in the Brandon School Division is reporting an average uptick in student absences following the return of in-person learning on Monday.

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Virtually every institution in the Brandon School Division is reporting an average uptick in student absences following the return of in-person learning on Monday.

This information is widely available through BSD’s new attendance tracker, which is being updated daily on the division’s official website. 

While no data was available for Prairie Hope High School or Spring Valley Colony School as of Tuesday afternoon, the school division is keeping track of how many students have already missed in-person classes at its other 22 institutions during mornings and afternoons. 

File An École New Era School student makes their way to waiting school buses on a frigid afternoon last February.

Over the last two days, student absenteeism ranged from a low of 10 per cent (École O’Kelly School, Tuesday afternoon) to a high of 35 per cent (Riverview School, Tuesday morning). 

For each entry, BSD officials are also providing the average student absenteeism rate for the fall 2021 semester, which ranges from a low of seven per cent (Waverly Park School) to a high of 22 per cent (Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School). 

In every individual category, the average student absenteeism rate recorded at a BSD school over the last two days eclipses that of the average absenteeism rate recorded at the same school last semester. 

However, BSD officials have indicated that these numbers should not be interpreted as a direct indicator of COVID-19 risk. Instead, these student absences could also be attributed to a variety of other reasons, like students staying home to attend a dentist appointment or to take care of family obligations. 

That said, the reason BSD put this new attendance monitoring system in place is to help parents make an informed decision about whether they should send their children back to in-person classes this week. 

Since the division didn’t have to contend with the highly infectious omicron variant to the same degree last semester, Supt. Mathew Gustafson told the Sun that constant communication with parents about these matters is a key part of the division’s back-to-school strategy. 

“We know that the community prevalence [of COVID] has increased since the winter break, so we anticipate that families will have different situations where they may be isolating and communicating with their schools,” he said. 

“So we want to support that as best we can.” 

Brandon School Division’s attendance monitoring system is a result of the province’s recent policy shift on contact tracing for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, he said. 

Last Thursday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced these schools will no longer provide close contact notifications and letters to parents on individual COVID cases. Instead, schools will supply reports of absenteeism through their regular notification channels. 

Gustafson noted that BSD is going beyond the scope of the province’s new guidelines by supplying absentee numbers twice a day (during the morning and the afternoon), and by showcasing self-reported COVID cases as well. 

For example, BSD officials announced on Monday that 120 people, including staff and students, reported they had tested positive for the virus throughout the last 72 hours. 

However, most of these COVID cases do not represent school exposures, since they were recorded while most students and staff were still at home in remote learning, Gustafson said. 

“That could include results from a positive PCR [test], it could include positive rapid antigen [tests], it could include what parents might presume is a positive case, because all this information comes from individuals as self-reported,” he said. 

While public health is largely taking a back seat to contact tracing in Manitoba schools right now, Gustafson said BSD officials will keep this provincial body in the loop if self-reported COVID cases and student absences continue to rise. 

“If we start to see those numbers change drastically, or that there’s some unusual pieces, then we’re going to contact public health, provide them with that information and there will be an investigation,” he said. 

The school division’s new attendance tracker is available at bsd.ca. 

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com 

» Twitter:@KyleDarbyson

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