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 some students are falling behind, and making the February newsletter was not easy for all teachers.
The start of the primary and secondary school classes began on January 17. Quebec had then set up a system of “syndromic surveillance” to measure the absenteeism rate of students and staff. Since then, schools have been reporting on the situation twice a week. However, these reports are incomplete, since they are based on disclosure by parents, but also because some establishments omit 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. At that time, 65,015 students were absent due to COVID-19, representing 4.74% of the total number of students in the province. In total, 96% of schools in the public network and 84% of establishments in the private network provided their data for this period.
Absences then fell gradually to reach 32,006 students, according to the latest data, published on Tuesday, which represents 2.34% of students. This time, 90% of the public network transmitted its data, against 74% of private establishments.
“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 Syndicat de l’enseignement de l’ouest de Montréal. 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 massacre”, she reports, “but we feel that we don’t have a lot of slack” in terms of teaching staff. “People told us that this wave was more difficult than the others, probably because there is fatigue and adaptability has its limits. We will cross our fingers that things will calm down, ”she said.
“The situation is less bad than what we expected at the start of the school year,” said Dominic Loubier, president of the Chaudière teachers’ union.
The problem lies mainly in the additional workload for teachers of monitoring isolated students 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.
Students have sometimes missed up to 10 days of school since the return in January, and some classes have had a lot of absentees at the same time, which has repercussions. “We can send things to do at home, it keeps them busy, however, it cannot be new material, explains Eve St-Germain Duval, teacher of 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 are not 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 with regard to learning, it is still better to be present in class than to do school online.
The teachers say that it was difficult to make the reports for February, says Mélanie Hubert. “There will be academic delay to recover, and it will take some time,” she adds. Teachers of subjects such as English or physical education, who see students once a week, for example, have difficulty evaluating them properly, 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 stressed to prefer that a percentage of students be absent rather than closing classes, among other things for reasons of socialization and mental health.