Montreal school board provides parents with overview of COVID-related absences

Absences are put in three categories — absent after a positive rapid test, absent with symptoms and absent due to home isolation, the Lester B. Pearson School Board said in a statement.

Education Ministry report shows thousands of students absent across Quebec

Elementary and high school students returned to Quebec schools after an extended winter break this year, and there were new public safety measures in place. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Quebec may have stopped offering PCR testing to the general public and put an end to COVID-19 contact tracing, but one Montreal school board is taking matters into its own hands.

"In the spirit of transparency and to be as proactive as possible, our school board felt that parents and staff would appreciate receiving daily updates regarding COVID-19-related absences in our community," said the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) in a statement

The board says absences are put in three categories — absent after a positive rapid test, absent with symptoms and absent due to home isolation.

"A daily summary of these absences will be made available to parents and staff at each of our schools via our internal portal which will provide a snapshot of absences compiled for the day from the previous day until 4 p.m.,"  the board said.

"We are providing a global snapshot rather than reporting individual cases, which is why we felt more comfortable with a general overview."

Data from Quebec's Education Ministry shows that more than 11,648 students are currently absent because they tested positive, but nearly 20,000 other students are declared absent due to COVID-19 without a positive result, Radio-Canada reports.

Those lacking a positive result could be household-contact cases who do not have access to rapid testing. They could also be students with symptoms who were unable to get tested.

However, the number of COVID-related absences may be considerably higher than estimated because the ministry is lacking data. Some 30 per cent of public schools and 15 per cent of private schools did not provide absence numbers to the government. 

Unlike last year, students are no longer required to isolate when classmates are sick, and a class closes only when 60 per cent of students are in isolation. So far, Quebec has 91 closed classes this year compared to 745 at this time last year, Radio-Canada reports.

The Education Ministry is collecting data from schools twice a week. It says it's looking at different options to make information about cases in schools available to parents and the public.

Olivier Drouin is the parent who created Covid Écoles Québec, a website that was set up to track cases in the province's schools. He said the province's current system leaves parents with no information.

"We're in the dark," he said. "We don't know the risk level of sending our kids to school, or if they're going to bring back the virus home based on school exposures."

Drouin wants to see the data made public.

"The data belongs to the citizens, taxpayers," he said. "Opening up the data around everything that they have in terms of rapid tests in schools, absences related to COVID at the school level — at the class level — not just aggregate numbers." 

In the interim, Heidi Yetman, head of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said LBPSB's effort to take matters into its own hands is fine as long as it doesn't create more work for staff, forcing teachers to fill out forms or make inquiries.

"It's nice to know why kids aren't in school, but teachers have a lot on their plates," she said.

with files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio


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