COVID concern leads to lower school attendance, followed by rebound

Attendance at some Greater Victoria School District sites took a marked drop this week as parents pondered a number of recent COVID-19 exposures, although it headed back up after a few days, said superintendent Shelley Green.

“We are tracking it because, of course, we’re worried about it to,” she said. “So we’ve had certainly a couple of scenarios where the exposure notification went out to the appropriate people in the school and there was significant absenteeism the following day.

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“But it significantly went down the day after and the day after that, so I think it’s been more of a reactive piece to what the media has said and [parents’] concerns for their kids that they hear through the grapevine.”

Green said close tracking has been done at Cedar Hill Middle School, which had three COVID‑19 exposure notices over the Easter long weekend, and shows a 40 per cent absentee rate for Tuesday, 38 for Wednesday and 34 for Thursday.

Sunny and warm days make a difference to the situation, she said.

“The better weather helps because everyone just spends more time outside.”

Loryn Anderson said she is keeping son Neiko and daughter Loa at home in response to COVID-19.

Neiko is in Grade 3 at Oaklands Elementary School, which had a recent COVID-19 exposure, and Loa is in Grade 6 at Monterey Middle School, which has not yet had an exposure. Both schools are in the Greater Victoria School District.

Keeping the children out of school is a day-by-day decision, Anderson said.

“We’re going to do this week home and we’re hoping that we’ll feel better about it next week, but I can’t say that I have much promise in my heart.”

Anderson said she is doing her best to keep informed.

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron said now is the time, with COVID-19 cases going up, to look at transitioning to more of a hybrid education model that combines classroom time and at-home learning.

“It’s one thing to say kids need to be in school,” Waldron said.

“I believe they need to be in school, I think in-school learning is much better than online, however we know the vaccine is getting rolled out, we know that’s happening, and we know COVID cases are on the rise so why not make some sort of hybrid.

“Let as many people learn from home as possible and in that way keep some continuity in education but also keep as much of the population as possible safe.”

In the Saanich School District, where there have not been recent exposures, a similar situation with attendance has not materialized, said superintendent Dave Eberwein.

“We haven’t seen a particular big dip like that.”

People are paying close attention to what is happening with COVID-19 here and around the province, he said.

“There’s certainly a heightened anxiety in the community, for sure.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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