These days it’s not uncommon to look inside a classroom and notice a bunch of empty seats as kids are home sick.
Student absence rates are the worst they have ever been, according to one school division in Winnipeg.
“A steady increase in September and over the course of the fall and early winter,” Louis Riel School Division superintendent Christian Michalik said.
LRSD recently released data on student absences for the first few months of the school year.
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While every year, November is the fall month with the highest absence rates, the division said this year the absence rate more than doubled that of pre-pandemic years, jumping from 7.2 per cent to 15 per cent.
The rate is even more startling among the youngest students. Kindergarteners were away nearly three times as often as before.
“So the younger the child, the more of the absence,” Michalik said.
They are also the ones where teachers are noticing the largest gap in learning.
“We were already seeing a learning gap as a result of the pandemic,” he said. “Again, it’s expressing itself more strongly in the early years.”
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According to the same data, not only are more students getting sick but it is also happening more often.
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Students are considered ‘chronically absent’ when they miss between 10 and 20 per cent of the school year. They are considered ‘severely chronically absent’ when their absences exceed 20 per cent of the school year.
This year more than 43 per cent of students are deemed to be in one of those two categories.
“In the back of your mind, you’re kind of wondering who isn’t going to be here in the upcoming week,” Manitoba Teachers’ Society president James Bedford said.
“It makes getting through the curriculum very, very challenging.”
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The new data prompted a vote during Tuesday night’s LRSD school board meeting where trustees passed a motion strongly recommending masking indoors in school facilities.
MTS said with so many kids missing school, it can end up being a logistical nightmare for teachers to track who is away at what time and what each person has missed.
“You have to keep track of who’s not there so that when they do return and when they’re back at 100 per cent in terms of learning that you’re making sure those students are getting caught up,” he said. “And it certainly means more work at home for those students.”
It can also mean extra work for teachers who are spending more time before, during and after school with some of those students to help them catch up.
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