Sat. May 21st, 2022

A week after the return to personal learning, a handful of schools in the London area are a whirlwind away from the 30 per cent absence threshold that requires school officials to notify the health unit as a way to keep track of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Absenteeism data was collected last week and released online Monday in accordance with the province’s new school reporting protocol.

The province changed its guidelines for reporting COVID-19 cases earlier this month because the increase in the Omicron variant of the virus had pushed the number of cases up beyond the capacity to test all suspected cases.

Instead of families reporting individual cases or being notified of positive cases at school, schools are required to send absenteeism figures to the province.

The following 10 schools in the London area had the highest reported absenteeism, a number combining pupils and school staff who were not present. Complete absence data are published by the province here.

  1. FD Roosevelt PS 29.5%
  2. Robert’s Provincial School for the Deaf 28.6%
  3. John P Robarts PS 26.8%
  4. CC Carrothers PS 25.7%
  5. St Thomas Aquinas SS 22.6%
  6. Ealing PS 22.5%
  7. East Carling PS 22.6%
  8. Knollwood Park PS 22.5%
  9. East Elgin (Aylmer) SS 21.9%
  10. The Blessed Sacrament 21.7%

The numbers capture absenteeism for whatever reason, not just COVID-19.

Every day, students and teachers must complete an online COVID-19 screening questionnaire before entering school. Certain answers to questions about the respondent’s health or contact with a person who is positive about COVID-19 may require them to stay home and isolate themselves.

Jeff Pratt, associate director of the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), said he was not surprised by the absenteeism figures, which he said are consistent with the rates reported at various organizations and workplaces during the Omicron rise.

“We will continue to monitor these rates on a daily basis,” he said.

Pratt said he was not aware of any specific reason why TVDSB elementary schools like Roosevelt, Carrothers and Robarts had such high absenteeism rates.

Under the new reporting protocol, any school that exceeds a 30 percent absenteeism rate must notify the local health unit. Reaching the 30 percent threshold does not necessarily mean a school shuts down or returns to online learning. Instead, it gets the school to notify parents and work with the health unit to provide more information on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Alex Summers, the London region’s acting doctor for health, said on Monday that the reporting protocol is intended to mark sudden increases in absenteeism “so people can be reminded how to protect their community and themselves.”

Craig Smith is president of the union that represents elementary school teachers at TVDSB.

He believes most of the teacher absenteeism is created by their response to the daily online screening tool.

“If we respond in a certain way, it will indicate that we can not go to work,” he said. Teachers who report close contact or a positive case of COVID-19 should isolate themselves for five days if fully vaccinated, 10 days without vaccination.

Signs remind students of physical distance at Eagle Heights Public School in London, Ont. Under new provincial protocols, schools no longer notify parents of all positive cases of COVID-19 in schools. (Andrew Lupton / CBC)

Smith said it is not ideal for the reporting system to lump students ‘and teachers’ absences together, even if that data is captured by schools separately.

“I think the system is flying a little blind,” he said. “I wish we had some more concrete data to work with, but we do not have that.”

Pratt said TVDSB is working to change their reporting so that student and staff absences are reported separately, hoping to create a more detailed data set and identify possible outbreaks.

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