A week since the return to in-person learning, a handful of London-area schools are a whisker away from the 30 per cent absence threshold that requires school officials to notify the health unit, as a way to watch for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Absences data was gathered 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 surge of the Omicron variant of the virus had pushed up case counts beyond the capacity to test every suspected case.
Instead of families reporting individual cases or being notified about positive cases at school, schools are required to send absence numbers to the province.
The following 10 schools in the London area had the highest reported absences, a figure that combines students and school staff who were not present. Full absences data is posted by the province here.
- F.D. Roosevelt PS 29.5%
- Robarts Provincial School for the Deaf 28.6%
- John P Robarts PS 26.8%
- C.C. Carrothers PS 25.7%
- St Thomas Aquinas SS 22.6%
- Ealing PS 22.5%
- East Carling PS 22.6%
- Knollwood Park PS 22.5%
- East Elgin (Aylmer) SS 21.9%
- Blessed Sacrament 21.7%
The numbers capture absences for any reason, not just COVID-19.
Each day, students and teachers are required to complete an online COVID-19 screening questionnaire before they come to school. Certain answers to questions about the respondent’s health or contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19 may require them to stay home and self-isolate.
Jeff Pratt, associate director of the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), said he wasn’t surprised by the absentee numbers, which he said are in line with rates being reported at various organizations and workplaces during the Omicron surge.
“We’ll keep monitoring these rates on a daily basis,” he said.
Pratt said he wasn’t aware of any specific reason that TVDSB elementary schools such as Roosevelt, Carrothers and Robarts had such high absentee rates.
Under the new reporting protocol, any school that exceeds an absence rate of 30 per cent is required to notify the local health unit. Reaching the 30 per cent threshold doesn’t necessarily mean a school will shut down or return to online learning. Instead, it prompts the school to notify parents and to work with the health unit to provide more information about preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Alex Summers, the London region’s acting medical officer of health, said Monday the reporting protocol is intended to flag sudden spikes in absences “so that people can be reminded about how they can protect their community and themselves.”
Craig Smith is the president of union that represents elementary teachers at the TVDSB.
He believes most of the teacher absences have been created by their responses to the daily online screening tool.
“If we answer a certain way, it will indicate that we can’t go to work,” he said. Teachers who report a close contact or a positive case of COVID-19 have to isolate for five days if they’re fully vaccinated, 10 days with no vaccination.
Smith said it’s not ideal that the reporting system lumps student and teacher absences together, even though that data is captured by schools separately.
“I think the system is flying a bit blind,” he said. “I wish we had some more concrete data to work with, but we don’t.”
Pratt said the TVDSB is working to modify their reporting so that student and staff absences are reported separately, in hopes of creating a more detailed data set and identify possible outbreaks.