Monday January 10, 2022 | SAANICH, BC
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
Today, on this first day back after winter break — during the Omicron wave of the pandemic — attendance levels for both students and staff are falling within the normal range in SD63 Saanich, says SD63 Superintendent Dave Eberwein.
Back on December 30, Superintendent Eberwein issued a statement to parents, including: “Safe and engaging in-person learning is known to have a positive impact on the intellectual, social and emotional development of children. As safety continues to be our highest priority, the time next week will provide us with the opportunity to ensure we continue to have these safe and engaging learning places for your children.”
On January 6, the SD63 message was a further guideline to assure parents: “Next Monday, all Saanich Schools will be open and school buses will be running on their regular schedules. Thank you for your understanding as we prepared for new conditions in our classrooms, schools and instructional strategies as we returned from the Winter Break.”
By comparison, in SD62 (west shore and Sooke), 14% of students were away from class today in SD62.
Highly-transmissible COVID variant:
The Omicron variant is highly transmissible. The incubation period is short (three days) compared to earlier variants or the original SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID) virus.
The Provincial Health Office has directed school districts to remind parents of the following information:
- All students should be wearing masks if possible on school buses and in classrooms. Masks are required for Kindergarten – Grade 12. Any requests for mask exemptions should be shared with school administration.
- Parents, guardians, students and staff are being reminded to wash your hands regularly and perform a Daily Health Check. You can download the K-12 Health Check App HERE [k12dailycheck.gov.bc.ca]. Please stay home if you are not feeling well.
Today the Ministry of Education outlined how absences from K-12 schools are assessed:
- Schools will be comparing current attendance rates to the previous years to determine if any potential activity signals related to attendance have been met. When reached, they will contact their local School Medical Health Officer to determine if further investigation is warranted.
- Current public health-identified potential activity signals are:
- If school attendance is 10% below historical normal (e.g., the previous years),
- If less than 75% of students in a grade are in attendance, OR
- For smaller schools (e.g., student population under 100) where large fluctuations in school absenteeism rates can be due to small numbers of students away, schools should contact public health if they determine an abnormal number of students are away due to illness over 2-3 days,
- Schools used last week to develop plans for different scenarios to see if and how programs could run when certain activity signals arose, including potential functional closures of a school or grade.
Last Friday (January 7) just ahead of the return to K12 classes after winter break, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside addressed in her media session (along with Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix), about absentee rates being a proxy for accurate COVID case numbers, given that Omicron is spreading too quickly for accurate numbers to be maintained.
She said that absenteeism above 10% of normal is a trigger, but that there is “no one cut off”. School populations vary in size and composition. School administrations “know their general level of absence… on a daily basis and what’s happening in their schools”, Whiteside said.
“I know this is an anxious time for parents and families,” she said, but “the education system is ready and able to adapt”.
Regarding how to determine Omicron/COVID levels, she said:
“What we understand in the current situation that we’re in with Omicron is that having access to information about individual test-positive cases is not going to be possible. So we need a proxy to understand what’s happening in schools. Schools know very well what their attendance rates are and how they fluctuate and what is typical for this time of year, so schools will be monitoring, on a daily basis, as they always do, for attendance as a trigger,” Minister Whiteside said.
“And when it reaches a certain point that will be a trigger to say that there’s something going on in a classroom or across a grade or in a school, and that requires an intervention by public health. When a school notifies public health that there is sort of what we might call a signal of concern with respect to attendance, a notification will also go out to the school community. The school community will know when a school has notified public health that there’s a matter for concern,” she said.
Public health component:
In K-12 schools, schools will closely monitor school attendance data to determine if they have meet a public-health determined potential activity signal, it was stated in a document COVID-19 Protocols for School & District Administrators and Staff: Management of School-Associated Activity (dated January 7, 2022) by the Ministry of Education as compiled along with the BC Centre for Disease Control. “When met, the school will notify public health and the school community,” the report states.
Public health, led by Medical Health Officers, will continue to lead investigations to determine if additional measures are needed.
School districts report absenteeism to the health authority when it’s 10% above normal, particularly where the absence is due to illness, says Island Health.
SD62 student absence rate higher on first day back (January 10, 2022)
Schools continue to make 3-layer masks available for students & staff (January 5, 2022)
K-12 phased return in Jan 2022 due to Omicron (December 29, 2021)
SD62 interrupts winter break with ‘new hires’ vaccine mandate message (December 21, 2021)