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

    It is widely understood that attendance at school is strongly and positively correlated with academic achievement and wellness. Students who attend school regularly are more engaged in learning, have a greater sense of belonging, and are more likely to reach their full potential.  

    Absences, when chronic and sustained, are disruptive to the learning process and to 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 a pattern that can be difficult to break.  

    The newly released Winter Student Absence Rates Report is a follow-up to the Fall Student Absence Report and addresses the following two questions: 

    1. As we saw in the fall months, are we seeing higher absence rates in the winter months of the current school year compared with those months in pre-pandemic years? 
    2. To what degree have chronic absence rates risen during pandemic-impacted years compared with pre-pandemic years?

    Absence rates are almost always higher in winter months compared with fall months. While we saw a continued increase in absence rates in the fall of 2022, we are seeing a levelling off or slight decline in absence rates at almost every grade level in the winter months of this school year compared with last year. Importantly however, the percentage of students who are chronically absent continues to rise, with the greatest increase seen in Kindergarten and Grade 1.   

    In response to the Fall Student Absence Report and Manitoba Early Education and Childhood Learning’s (MEECL) January directive, Louis Riel School Division launched a Student Attendance Taskforce in February 2023. Three interconnected subgroups have begun carrying out the taskforce’s mandate to:  

    1. Create a Student Presence and Engagement Policy as per MEECL’s directives.  
    2. Promote common understanding and greater consistency in the use and categorization of attendance codes.  
    3. Understand more fully the current state of presence and engagement and the muti-dimensional causes of chronic absences.   
    4. Identify the key components of and current barriers to effective prevention, early intervention, as well as sustained, individualized intervention.  
    5. Identify needed resources/tools to aid schools in addressing attendance concerns (i.e., resource materials, templates, data reports).  
    6. Make recommendations for an improved systems approach to prevention, identification/tracking, investigation, intervention, and monitoring of absences in LRSD.  

    The Student Presence and Engagement Policy has been drafted and will be reviewed by various stakeholders in the coming weeks. The third meeting of the Intervention and Prevention subgroup will take place on May 4. In the following school year, we plan to seek input from students, parents, and guardians before finalizing our recommendations.

    Background Information:  

    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 Winter Student Absence Rates: An Analysis of Absences in the Context of a Pandemic focuses on overall absence rates throughout 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.