Letters sent home about school absenteeism raise questions for parents

News Jan 28, 2022 by Isabel Teotonio Education Reporter

Toronto parents have started receiving a letter from public health officials when the absentee rate at their child’s school or daycare hits 30 per cent — but it’s unclear what that benchmark means.

The letter from Toronto Public Health is sent when absenteeism “is at least 30 per cent higher than usual.” Parents, however, may be left with questions, including whether there is COVID-19 in their child’s class and if they should keep their kids home.

When asked about this, TPH told the Star it supports schools “in implementing multiple layers of protection (that) are necessary to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 and to keep schools as safe as possible.”

“The letter is to remind parents of these important measures, including daily screening, and to keep children home if their child is sick or anyone in the household has symptoms,” said the TPH via email. “It is also very important for all residents to get themselves, and their children vaccinated, as it is the best protection against serious consequences linked to COVID-19.”

The province used to require confirmed COVID cases in schools and daycares be publicly reported, but Ontario, along with some other provinces, stopped this practice. In part, that’s because eligibility for PCR testing narrowed and it’s become challenging to access rapid tests, particularly with the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreading in the community.

Now, the Ministry of Education has directed that schools notify public health units when student and staff absenteeism reaches about 30 per cent from its baseline, which includes all reasons for an absence, not just COVID. A joint letter from the school and local public health unit is then shared with the community.

According to the TPH, “if the absences are known not to be related to COVID-19, the letter does not need to be sent.”

In a preamble that principals of Catholic schools use when sending the TPH letter, they note that parents should be aware that hitting the 30 per cent absentee rate “does not necessarily reflect known active COVID cases in a particular school community.”

At one Catholic school, which recently hit that 30 per cent benchmark, school administrators and staff reached out to all the students who were absent — just one was away because of COVID, while the others were off for various reasons.

“Absences recorded could include an illness not related to COVID or a medical appointment,” according to the preamble. “The Ministry of Education requires school boards to report on all staff and student absences including students that are temporarily learning remotely and publicly reports the total percentage of staff and student absences.”

There are also plans at the Toronto District School Board for its principals to include a preamble when sending the TPH letter “to make clear the reasons behind the letter and how it may not necessarily reflect the current known cases of COVID-19 at the school,” said board spokesperson Ryan Bird. “(Absences) may be as a result of other reasons.”

He noted that when it comes to absences, the TDSB is “looking at how we can provide greater clarity.”

Toronto’s public and Catholic boards are going beyond what is required of them by the government because when notified of a test-confirmed positive COVID case, those in the impacted classes are made aware. The Toronto Catholic District School Board also continues to update its COVID-19 dashboard.

Toronto mother Marie Tattersall, whose daughter attends a TDSB school, says “complete transparency is crucial because every parent has a right to know what’s happening inside their child’s class and school.” She’d like to see every case counted, contact tracing done, outbreaks managed and greater access to PCR and rapid tests.

“Setting an arbitrary threshold of 30 per cent only empowers Omicron,” she said. “We have no knowledge of what’s actually happening in a classroom.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

Letters sent home about school absenteeism raise questions for parents

News Jan 28, 2022 by Isabel Teotonio Education Reporter

Toronto parents have started receiving a letter from public health officials when the absentee rate at their child’s school or daycare hits 30 per cent — but it’s unclear what that benchmark means.

The letter from Toronto Public Health is sent when absenteeism “is at least 30 per cent higher than usual.” Parents, however, may be left with questions, including whether there is COVID-19 in their child’s class and if they should keep their kids home.

When asked about this, TPH told the Star it supports schools “in implementing multiple layers of protection (that) are necessary to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 and to keep schools as safe as possible.”

“The letter is to remind parents of these important measures, including daily screening, and to keep children home if their child is sick or anyone in the household has symptoms,” said the TPH via email. “It is also very important for all residents to get themselves, and their children vaccinated, as it is the best protection against serious consequences linked to COVID-19.”

The province used to require confirmed COVID cases in schools and daycares be publicly reported, but Ontario, along with some other provinces, stopped this practice. In part, that’s because eligibility for PCR testing narrowed and it’s become challenging to access rapid tests, particularly with the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreading in the community.

Now, the Ministry of Education has directed that schools notify public health units when student and staff absenteeism reaches about 30 per cent from its baseline, which includes all reasons for an absence, not just COVID. A joint letter from the school and local public health unit is then shared with the community.

According to the TPH, “if the absences are known not to be related to COVID-19, the letter does not need to be sent.”

In a preamble that principals of Catholic schools use when sending the TPH letter, they note that parents should be aware that hitting the 30 per cent absentee rate “does not necessarily reflect known active COVID cases in a particular school community.”

At one Catholic school, which recently hit that 30 per cent benchmark, school administrators and staff reached out to all the students who were absent — just one was away because of COVID, while the others were off for various reasons.

“Absences recorded could include an illness not related to COVID or a medical appointment,” according to the preamble. “The Ministry of Education requires school boards to report on all staff and student absences including students that are temporarily learning remotely and publicly reports the total percentage of staff and student absences.”

There are also plans at the Toronto District School Board for its principals to include a preamble when sending the TPH letter “to make clear the reasons behind the letter and how it may not necessarily reflect the current known cases of COVID-19 at the school,” said board spokesperson Ryan Bird. “(Absences) may be as a result of other reasons.”

He noted that when it comes to absences, the TDSB is “looking at how we can provide greater clarity.”

Toronto’s public and Catholic boards are going beyond what is required of them by the government because when notified of a test-confirmed positive COVID case, those in the impacted classes are made aware. The Toronto Catholic District School Board also continues to update its COVID-19 dashboard.

Toronto mother Marie Tattersall, whose daughter attends a TDSB school, says “complete transparency is crucial because every parent has a right to know what’s happening inside their child’s class and school.” She’d like to see every case counted, contact tracing done, outbreaks managed and greater access to PCR and rapid tests.

“Setting an arbitrary threshold of 30 per cent only empowers Omicron,” she said. “We have no knowledge of what’s actually happening in a classroom.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

Letters sent home about school absenteeism raise questions for parents

News Jan 28, 2022 by Isabel Teotonio Education Reporter

Toronto parents have started receiving a letter from public health officials when the absentee rate at their child’s school or daycare hits 30 per cent — but it’s unclear what that benchmark means.

The letter from Toronto Public Health is sent when absenteeism “is at least 30 per cent higher than usual.” Parents, however, may be left with questions, including whether there is COVID-19 in their child’s class and if they should keep their kids home.

When asked about this, TPH told the Star it supports schools “in implementing multiple layers of protection (that) are necessary to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 and to keep schools as safe as possible.”

“The letter is to remind parents of these important measures, including daily screening, and to keep children home if their child is sick or anyone in the household has symptoms,” said the TPH via email. “It is also very important for all residents to get themselves, and their children vaccinated, as it is the best protection against serious consequences linked to COVID-19.”

The province used to require confirmed COVID cases in schools and daycares be publicly reported, but Ontario, along with some other provinces, stopped this practice. In part, that’s because eligibility for PCR testing narrowed and it’s become challenging to access rapid tests, particularly with the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreading in the community.

Now, the Ministry of Education has directed that schools notify public health units when student and staff absenteeism reaches about 30 per cent from its baseline, which includes all reasons for an absence, not just COVID. A joint letter from the school and local public health unit is then shared with the community.

According to the TPH, “if the absences are known not to be related to COVID-19, the letter does not need to be sent.”

In a preamble that principals of Catholic schools use when sending the TPH letter, they note that parents should be aware that hitting the 30 per cent absentee rate “does not necessarily reflect known active COVID cases in a particular school community.”

At one Catholic school, which recently hit that 30 per cent benchmark, school administrators and staff reached out to all the students who were absent — just one was away because of COVID, while the others were off for various reasons.

“Absences recorded could include an illness not related to COVID or a medical appointment,” according to the preamble. “The Ministry of Education requires school boards to report on all staff and student absences including students that are temporarily learning remotely and publicly reports the total percentage of staff and student absences.”

There are also plans at the Toronto District School Board for its principals to include a preamble when sending the TPH letter “to make clear the reasons behind the letter and how it may not necessarily reflect the current known cases of COVID-19 at the school,” said board spokesperson Ryan Bird. “(Absences) may be as a result of other reasons.”

He noted that when it comes to absences, the TDSB is “looking at how we can provide greater clarity.”

Toronto’s public and Catholic boards are going beyond what is required of them by the government because when notified of a test-confirmed positive COVID case, those in the impacted classes are made aware. The Toronto Catholic District School Board also continues to update its COVID-19 dashboard.

Toronto mother Marie Tattersall, whose daughter attends a TDSB school, says “complete transparency is crucial because every parent has a right to know what’s happening inside their child’s class and school.” She’d like to see every case counted, contact tracing done, outbreaks managed and greater access to PCR and rapid tests.

“Setting an arbitrary threshold of 30 per cent only empowers Omicron,” she said. “We have no knowledge of what’s actually happening in a classroom.”

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74