Each day, students must drop off a health checklist to pledge they aren’t coming to school with symptoms of illness. Red Deer Public Schools had a 92 per cent attendance rate during the first month of school — which is two per cent below that of last September. (The Canadian Press photo).

Red Deer Public School officials hope 8 per cent student absentee rate holds steady

September’s absentee rate was only a little worse than last year

Two reported COVID-19 cases led to 140 students being quarantined for 14 days in Red Deer public schools last month.

But despite viral incidents at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School and Vista Grande School, the district-wide student absenteeism rate for September was only two per cent below last year’s numbers for the first month of school, said community relations director Bruce Buruma.

There was 92 per cent attendance, compared to 94 per cent in September 2019, he said.

All things considered, it was “pretty good,” said Buruma, who was happy the virus had not spread to the infected students’ classmates.

Teacher absenteeism in the district is also low, so far.

Rob Moltzahn, superintendent of human resources for the district, said, “If anything, we have more staff working than last year,” as 18 additional teachers were hired to help the 10 per cent of students who have opted for at-home learning.

Alberta school districts are adhering to a long checklist of screening questions that must be submitted by students or their parents daily.

Student are asked whether they have symptoms ranging from cough and fever to muscle aches, headaches or pink eye.

Answering “yes” to any of these 14 symptoms means keeping the impacted student at home and contacting Health Link for additional information, said Buruma.

He believes nurses on the provincial line will advise whether a COVID-19 test is necessary.

Unlike British Columbia, Alberta has not dropped some symptoms from the checklist, such as runny nose, nausea or diarrhea — which B.C. health authorities have determined are unlikely to indicate a COVID-19 infection.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has stated that this province is not yet ready to narrow the list.

She told media: “I think in Alberta, we’re not far enough along yet to know whether or not we could take some of those symptoms off of our lists without increasing the risk that COVID-19 could be introduced into the school.”

Until the provincial stance changes, Buruma said school districts are required to follow the daily checklist provided by Alberta Health Services.

Child care will also likely be a problem for many families this winter, said Buruma.

And “of course, there’s concern” about what the upcoming flu season will bring, since symptoms of the common flu are very similar to COVID-19, he added.

“Our absenteeism is only two per cent and we want to keep it there.”

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