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Prince George schools seeing increase in teacher and student absences during Omicron wave

‘Potential activity’ letters are sent home if 25 per cent of a class has been absent because of illness
polaris prince george
Classes in Polaris Montessori Elementry received potential activity letters.

School District No. 57 (SD57) is monitoring attendance patterns of both staff and students as the COVID-19 Omicron variant continues to surge in the region.

Parents may have received letters informing them their school has met ‘potential activity’ for COVID-19 based on school attendance and that public health will investigate further to see if additional actions are needed.

Acting Superintendent Cindy Heitman says the district has been directed by the ministry to monitor and track staff and student attendance and has seen an increase in absences.

“In terms of staff attendance, we are just monitoring and tracking who is away and ensuring that our schools have enough adults in them to operate safely,” said Heitman, adding the district is utilizing teachers-on-call and relocating staff within the buildings.

“We will utilize all adults possible to ensure that we can keep our schools open. If we ever reach a period where we do not have enough adults to safely operate the school we would consider a functional closure.”

A functional closure means students would be asked to stay home and move into a continuity of learning plan, which has already been pre-planned by teachers during the first week back from Christmas break.

“We haven't had to reach a situation where we've been concerned about a functional closure so far. We've been able to cover the absences from our staff and we haven’t had to consider that at this time.”

Heitman noted that before Christmas break the district had done a significant amount of hiring was able to cover all teacher absences, but since Omnicron has had more staff away.

“It is a bit of a strain, and we are covering absences internally, but our priority of course is classrooms and ensuring that kids in classrooms have a teacher in front of them. So, it is causing us to do some creative staffing within our schools but so far we've been able to ensure our schools stay operational.”

Heitman said the increase in staff absences is a signal that staff are doing what they are asked and that is to stay home should they have any symptoms.

“We are asking everybody to continue to do the daily health checks continue to monitor themselves and if they have symptoms, we asked them to stay home and they are doing that which is great.”

In terms of student absences, the district monitors student attendance each day to see if there has been a 10 per cent increase in absences from what would be typical during cold and flu season.

If there is a 10 per cent increase in absences, Heitman explained, the district will dive deeper into the attendance within a school to see if it’s one particular classroom or grade that has been affected.

If that’s the case, and 25 per cent of a class has been absent due to illness, the district will then notify the members of that classroom as well as Northern Health and the Ministry.

“We have seen some classrooms where we've had 25 per cent of the students who are away because they're ill. We don't necessarily know, it's COVID-19 related and we're not asking but it indicates that they're sick.”

She said some absences are due to the fact that parents are choosing to keep their kids home for other reasons, and it is important for families to let the schools know if their children are home sick or absent for another reason.

“When we signal to Northern Health they’re then monitoring our situation as well, and if they think there needs to be further action, they'll contact us and then we'll move those actions as recommended by Northern Health.”

Heitman said the “potential activity” signal does not mean there’s COIVD-19 in the classroom.

“If you have those letters, it just means there's an increase of absences due to illness and we do see that this time of year, but we feel that it is the respectful and responsible thing to do to inform parents that this is the case within the building.”