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  • Fall Student Absence Rates: An Analysis of Absences in the Context of a Pandemic

    Gauging and responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a top priority for the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD). When the pandemic first emerged, LRSD focused its attention on providing quality remote learning experiences and analyzing the impact of that experience. As the pandemic continued, LRSD turned its attention to tracking and sharing daily overall absence rates and COVID-19-related absence counts for students and school-based staff through its public-facing website. Now that we have begun a fourth school year affected by the pandemic, we turn our focus to its short-term and potential long-term impact.

    The Power BI report entitled The Fall Student Absence Rates: An Analysis of Absences in the Context of a Pandemic focuses on overall absence rates in the first three months of the school year, tracking when students miss school for any reason, not just illness-related absences. 

    Many factors influence attendance at school. Some attendance factors are caused directly by the pandemic, such as testing positive for COVID-19. Other factors are linked to living in the context of a pandemic, such as greater vigilance in staying home or being sent home when sick. Furthermore, it is yet unknown how living in the context of a pandemic may exacerbate many other factors that have always impacted attendance at school.

    It is widely understood that attendance at school is strongly and positively related with academic achievement and wellness. Absences, when chronic and sustained, are disruptive to the learning process and well-being. When a student is repeatedly absent, they miss key instruction which can impact learning and a sense of belonging. When multiple students in a class are repeatedly absent, the flow of instruction can be hampered, and the classroom community can be disrupted. This can quickly turn into pattern that can be difficult to break. 

    This new interactive report moves beyond daily COVID absence rates and provides an overview of the general absence trends we are seeing across LRSD. The report addresses the following questions about attendance in the context of a pandemic: 

    1. Are we seeing higher absence rates in the first 3 months of the current school year compared with those months in pre-pandemic years and previous pandemic years? 
    2. In which grade levels have we seen a greater change in absence rates during pandemic-impacted years compared with pre-pandemic years?
    3. To what degree have chronic absence rates risen during pandemic-impacted years compared with pre-pandemic years?

    Although the division is sharing this data publicly in December 2022, the Senior Leadership Team and school administrators have, for some time, been studying this data and its implications as well as refining the ways we can respond to the needs of our community. 

    One response, in the absence of a Public Health Order, could be returning to a strong recommendation for students, staff and visitors to wear masks while in schools. The Senior Leadership Team will bring this topic to the Board of Trustees to discuss at the Dec. 20 Public Board Meeting.  

    The pandemic has exacerbated the dilemma of absences in general, chronic absences specifically, and worrisome trends in the early years. As is suggested in this study and other studies, it takes a concerted effort and a coordinated equity focused system of supports that extends beyond the walls of a school to address student absences, especially in the case of chronic absences. The information we are sharing in this report to the community compels us to continue studying the trends we’re seeing and do all that we can to mitigate their impacts and ultimately change the troublesome trajectories. 

    Senior Leadership Team