Student absentee rates increase

·3 min read

Student absences in some public schools appear to have increased this fall compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 fall semester. John Munro, Belfast Consolidated School principal, said parents, teachers and students are taking public health guidelines seriously. Parents are keeping students home if they show even minor flu-like symptoms. “I feel it’s going fairly well,” Mr Munro said. Staff at Belfast School are on board with precautionary measures as well. The school has a enrollment of just over 100 students. Teachers don’t hesitate to call parents or guardians if a student shows any symptom of COVID-19. Mr Munro feels that following a variety of precautionary measures like this has kept the spread of COVID-19 at bay on PEI. It has also allowed students to partake in a relatively full in-person school year so far. According to PEI’s Public Schools Branch data, in September 2020 the average increase in student absences was five per cent compared to the previous year. In October it increased 15 per cent and three per cent in November. Through a week-long snapshot in mid-January 2021 the increase in student absences was 12 per cent compared to the previous year. “Data suggests we are seeing increased absences,” a spokesperson from the Department of Education said. In preparation for disruptions caused by COVID-19 the Department of Education revised school curriculums. Teachers this year have been focusing on prioritized key concepts students need to learn. The number of times and ways students are expected to explore some topics or concepts throughout the year has been reduced. This has allowed teachers more time to reach back and fill in any gaps in learning caused by school closures last spring. “With the pressure of the number of learning outcomes reduced, it allows us a little more time for catch up if students miss a few days,” Mr Munro said. The revised curriculum is also designed for possible disruptions this year such as the three day Island-wide school closure last week. Schools closed for 72 hours as part of the province’s response to the highest active COVID-19 case count since the start of the pandemic (23 active cases). There was an increased need for testing in all three counties due to multiple high traffic sites of potential exposure to the virus, and a lack of certainty about the source of some recent cases. While overall student absences have increased, some individual schools have hardly been impacted by this particular trend. Sherryl O’Hanley, Principal of Georgetown Elementary, said anecdotally, absences seem to be about on par with previous years. If there has been a slight difference, it hasn’t affected the day-to-day and students are still learning. Alberton Elementary Principal Shanna Perry said attendance has been up at her school. “This 2020-2021 school year has probably been one of the best years in a long time,” she said. “There have been fewer student and staff absences this year rather than other years in general.” Ms Perry said this seems to be the result of close adherence to guidelines such as frequent handwashing, social distancing, enhanced cleaning and masking when required. At her school, the revised curriculum has generally worked very well, helping students catch up from lost in-class time in the spring of 2020. “Currently, the majority of our students have made tremendous gains and have closed these gaps,” she said. “COVID-19 has presented us with many challenges,” Ms Perry said. “But, as we teach our students, with grit and determination, we can overcome adversity. Our teachers and students are resilient and they have proven this over and over again.”

Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic