6 Hamilton schools surpass 30 per cent absence rate, the new Ontario threshold


Published January 24, 2022 at 9:22 pm

Six Hamilton schools have absence rates of at least 30 per cent, days after the mid-January return to in-person learning amid the Omicron variant-fuelled fifth wave of the pandemic.

Hamilton’s top doctor, medical officer of health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, said Monday that the public health unit and school boards are “working through” what that could mean for schoolchildren, staff and families who are part of an educational facility. The local leadership is adapting after the Ontario PC Party government opted to cease case-by-case reporting and list absence rates by schools. Both the Hamilton Catholic and public boards are continuing to tell affected families about confirmed COVID-19 cases in a child’s elementary school class or secondary school cohort.

Dr. Richardson did not say it definitively, but seemed to indicate that schools may only close if they lack sufficient teaching staff.

“Primarily, what we’re going to see with schools at this point is really more from an operational standpoint,” Richardson said during the city’s first media briefing since children were able to attend in-person. “So our school partners are working very closely with their staff, looking at how they can keep the school open, how they can continue to provide teaching in an environment where they may have a large number of people who are off.

“So that is a piece that they’re working through operationally, and that’s where we might likely seek school closures as we go forward. In terms of looking at it from a COVID standpoint, that’s where we (Hamilton Public Health Services) would work with them if we’re seeing something unusual that’s happening in schools. They have a number of measures in places that are working in keeping transmission low, but primarily what we’re going to see is the operational issues that lead to a school being closed.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said last week that schools would receive more HEPA filters, teachers would receive N95 masks, and every in-person student would receive two rapid antigen tests (RATs) and a mask.

Several school boards needed to have employees spend hours re-sorting the RATs into packets of two since they ship in packages of five. There have been myriad reports from parents on social media about children receiving masks that are too large.

School absence reports are expected to be updated at 10:30 a.m. each weekday, based on the previous school day.

Cathy Wever Elementary School in central Hamilton had a reported 37 per cent absence rate last Friday, according to the provincial tracking at data.ontario.ca. The other schools above the 30 per cent threshold were all in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board — Prince of Wales (36%), Hillcrest (33%), Queen Mary (33%), Bernie Custis Secondary (33%) and Turning Point Alternative Education (31%).

The city has not yet shared up-to-date information about vaccine uptake by schools. The most recent data is of Dec. 31, and includes only children aged 12 and over (2009 birthdates and earlier). Richardson said the school-by-school rates will be updated later this week to include children aged 5 to 11, who have only been vaccine-eligible for about two months.

Both Cathy Wever and Hillcrest also came into the month with fewer than half of students aged 12 and over having two doses of vaccine against COVID-19.

School Board Absence(%) 1st dose 2nd dose
Cathy Wever HWDSB 37 62.8 53.7
Prince of Wales HWDSB 36 54.3 47.9
Hillcrest HWDSB 33 53.9 44.9
Queen Mary HWDSB 33 64.5 61.3
Turning Point HWDSB 33 75.0 66.7
Bernie Custis SS HWDSB 31 73.1 64.6
St. Charles HWCDSB 29 n/a n/a
Dr. Davey HWDSB 29 64.6 57
Lake Avenue HWDSB 29 79.2 66.3
Bennetto HWDSB 28 66.2 59.5
Viola Desmond HWDSB 28 64.7 57.2
Sir Winston Churchill HWDSB 28 74.4 69.1

As far as schools with the fewest reported absences, St. Joachim Catholic Elementary School in Ancaster reported only a 1 per cent absence rate. St. Joachim also has the highest listed vaccine uptake of any Hamilton school. Generally, the schools with the lowest reported absence rates in Hamilton also have generally higher vaccine uptake. The one outlying result is École élémentaire catholique Notre-Dame, where fewer than half of students 12-and-over were vaccinated as of Dec. 31,

School Board Absence(%) 1st dose 2nd dose
St. Joachim HWDSB 1 94.8 92.2
Mere-Teresa MonAvenir 3 80.6 78.1
Guardian Angels HWCDSB 5 85.8 83
St. Bernadette HWCDSB 5 86..5 86.5
Holy Name of Mary HWCDSB 6 82.2 78.5
St. Ann HWCDSB 7 92.9 88.6
St. Augustine HWCDSB 7 90.9 89.1
St. Teresa of Calcutta HWCDSB 7 78.4 76.1
Immaculate Heart of Mary HWCDSB 7 73.9 68.1
Waterdown District HS HWDSB 8 85.9 83.9
Guy B. Brown HWDSB 8 89 85.8
Notre-Dame MonAvenir 8 50.0 43.8
St. Marguerite d’Youville HWCDSB 8 80.7 77.3

All told, 337 schools across Ontario were reporting absence rates above 30 per cent at the end of last week. That was with some school boards counting students who are logged into online learning as parents. One hundred and eleven schools were above 50 per cent.

Ontario NDP education critic Marit Stiles stated that the province’s monitoring system is inadequate, and said case reporting should be reinstated.

“The school COVID data being released by the Ford government today is laughably vague and offers little usefulness,” Stiles said in a statement. “Parents across Ontario looking at this information will be left with more questions than answers.

“We cannot risk students’ health, or more school closures. The goal must be to keep every school open until June. To do that, the Ford government needs to reinstate testing, tracing, and actual COVID-19 case reporting, so that parents are alerted whenever there’s an infection in their child’s classroom.”

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