COVID-19: marked drop in absenteeism in schools

More than a month after the return to class in person in Quebec schools, the decline in the number of students and teachers absent due to COVID-19 seems to have continued for a few weeks. According to teachers’ unions, the worst is over in this respect. However, they note that students are falling behind and making the February newsletter was not easy for all teachers.

The return to primary and secondary school took place on January 17 and Quebec had set up a “syndromic surveillance” system to measure the absenteeism rate of students and staff. Schools have been reporting on the situation twice a week. These reports are incomplete, however, since they are based on self-disclosure by parents, but also because some establishments fail to provide the data.

Data released by the Ministry of Education shows that a peak was reached on 1er February, for both students and teachers. 65,015 students were then absent due to COVID-19, which represents 4.74% of the total number of students in the province. 96% of schools in the public network provided their data, and 84% of establishments in the private network.

This number then gradually dropped to 32,006 absent students, according to the latest data released on Tuesday, which represents 2.34% of students. 90% of the public network shared its data against 74% in the private sector.

“The month of January was very difficult to manage, there were sometimes half-full classes. It came in and it came out, underlines Mélanie Hubert, president of the West Montreal Education Union (SEOM). But what we’ve been hearing for two weeks is that things have calmed down. We have fewer calls. »

The situation is under control and “it’s not a carnage”, she reports, “but we feel that we don’t have much slack” in terms of teaching staff. “People have told us that this wave has been more difficult than the others, probably because there is fatigue and the ability to adapt has its limits. We will cross our fingers that things will calm down, ”she said.

“The situation is less worse than what was anticipated at the start of the school year,” said Dominic Loubier, president of the Chaudière teachers’ union.

The problem lies mainly in the additional workload of teachers to follow up on students isolated at home, he says. Those who are absent due to COVID-19 are given a certain number of hours of exercises to do at home.

For its part, Quebec Public Health urges caution in interpreting the data. “Validations are still in progress and it will be necessary to have stable data for some time yet in order to adequately monitor trends in school absenteeism data. Furthermore, it is important to note that absenteeism data is based on self-declaration by schools and parents,” writes the Ministry of Health and Social Services in an email sent to the Homework.

An impact on learning

Students have sometimes missed up to 10 days of school since the return in January and classes have had many absentees at the same time, which has an impact. “We can send things to do at home, it keeps them busy, but it can’t be new material, notes Eve St-Germain Duval, teacher in 5and year in an elementary school in Montreal. This is not when they will learn new things. »

Students could have more support at home so they aren’t left on their own, she thinks. “Last year, the Center de services scolaire de Montréal had a support service. A resource teacher would contact the student and, based on my planning, she would provide follow-up that resembled tutoring. »

Returning to the classroom in person worried him in January given the high number of COVID-19 cases. But she judges that in terms of learning, it is still better to be present in class rather than to do school online.

The teachers report that it was difficult to do the report cards for February, adds Mélanie Hubert. “There’s going to be some academic delay to recover from and it’s going to take a while,” she said. Teachers in subjects such as English or physical education, who see the student once a week, for example, have difficulty in properly evaluating them as there have been absences or class closures.

In the office of the Ministry of Education, we find it encouraging to see the rate of absenteeism decrease. It is emphasized to prefer that a percentage of students be absent rather than completely closing classes, among other things for reasons of socialization and mental health.

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