No more masking in classrooms doesn’t seem to be impacting student absenteeism in Red Deer Public Schools. (Black Press file photo).

No more masking in classrooms doesn’t seem to be impacting student absenteeism in Red Deer Public Schools. (Black Press file photo).

No evidence of higher viral spread among unmasked students in Red Deer classrooms

Absenteeism numbers are ‘on the lower end,’ says public school district official

The lifting of the provincial mask policy in Red Deer public schools is, so far, doing little to impact student absentee rates.

Bruce Buruma, community relations director for the district, admitted it was hard to predict the effect of last month’s provincial government decision to remove the masking requirement in schools. But so far “We’re in a good position,” he added.

Buruma noted the average student absentee rate due to illness across the district is 3.98 per cent. A COVID-19 dashboard on the division’s website showed a high of 9.2 per cent of illness-related absenteeism at Aspen Heights Elementary, and a low of 1.6 per cent at Vista Grande School on Tuesday.

It’s hard to make direct comparisons with pre-pandemic data because sick students are now told to stay home until their symptoms clear — which means they are spending more days at home than in the days before COVID-19, said Buruma.

He also believes parents are more cautious these days, avoiding sending their sick kids to school.

Overall student absenteeism indicates “we’re at the lower end… we’re in good shape,” said Buruma.

Earlier this year, many Alberta school divisions were scrambling to find substitutes because of high teacher absenteeism, but Buruma said this is no longer an issue.

“We are a reflection of where we are in the community,” said Buruma, referring to falling COVID-19 cases in the city and region.

Almost all COVID-19 restrictions in the province, including the masking policy in schools, were dropped by the provincial government in mid-February. A subsequent court challenge to keep masks in place in classrooms, led by parents of immunocompromised students, failed when a Court of Queen’s Bench Justice dismissed the application, saying there was no evidence of irreparable harm.

Red Deer Public Schools are still paying more to have classrooms cleaned during the day and to provide hand sanitizer. These measures will stay in place until there’s evidence they are no longer required.

“We will monitor that,” said Buruma.

The only masking rule that still applies is for students who use city transit buses to get to school. Masking continues to be a requirement for City of Red Deer transit customers.

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