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Student absentee rates double in district schools in last three weeks

SD8 monitors attendance for its schools and the absences at this point have ranged between 24 to 30 per cent since the beginning of January, compared to this time last year when there were around 15 per cent of students absent.

Student absences have nearly doubled in the school district since Christmas, mirroring absenteeism throughout workplaces across the West Kootenay.

School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) monitors attendance for its schools and the absences at this point have ranged between 24 to 30 per cent since the beginning of January, said SD8 superintendent of schools Trish Smillie, compared to this time last year when there were around 15 per cent of students absent.

“Our absences have been as a result of illness and other causes and may not be reflective of COVID-19,” she said. “The absence rates have fluctuated day by day.” 

At this point, no schools have closed, Smillie confirmed. 

“We have been fortunate to have dedicated teachers teaching on call and relief staff to support schools when there are absences,” she noted.

Smillie did not rule out the possibility of school closures when the rates of COVID-19 in the communities are high, but the district has been fortunate to have all of schools remain open at this point.

But some parents have kept their children home even if they are not sick, opting to avoid the potential for infection. Smillie said for parents who are concerned and have not sent their children to school since the Christmas break ended they are able to access some help to continue their children’s education at home.

“Parents are asked to contact their school principal to discuss options for continued learning,” she said. “Online resources may be available.”

School closures

Smillie said there are not new regulations in place that allow for closures, these have always existed, but with the unprecedented level of transmission in this pandemic, communities have been reminded about this.

According to School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake), closures of schools are “made separately based on what is happening in the school. Most students affected by closures will transition to remote learning.”

The types of possible school closures include:

• health closure of a school determined by the local health authority due to the COVID-19 case count in, or related to, a school; and

• functional closure of a school determined by the school or school district due to a lack of staff to provide the required level of teaching, supervision, support, and/or custodial to ensure the health and safety of students. This would likely be due to a high absenteeism of all staff or certain employees required for a school to function and the inability to replace those absences.

The decision to close schools is under the authority of the Medical Health Officer or the Superintendent (School Act ss.90(2)).

• A transportation closure would be due to a lack of staff to provide the required level of transportation services for students — and the district not able to replace those missing — leading to a school closure.

Source: School District No. 8

Closure protocol

Here’s what parents can expect if a school closure happens:

• Day one: Students and families are informed of the upcoming closure and the school will remain open on the first day the closure is announced;

• Day two: This is a transition day, where only students of essential service workers, students with diverse learning needs, and Aboriginal education students as requested will attend school; and

• Day three and beyond: The closure will be scheduled for seven days thereafter. People on site will include school administrators, TTOCs, educational assistants as required, custodians, clerical staff, students of essential service workers, students with diverse learning needs, and Aboriginal education students as requested. All other staff and students will work remotely.

Smillie said the closures will be temporary and likely be between five to seven days. 

“This would not pre-empt the entire school year,” she said.

Source: School District No. 8