High absence rates in Hamilton schools common, amid reports mask mandates end March 21


Published March 9, 2022 at 12:02 am

More than three out of every 10 public schools in Hamilton reported a 14 per cent absence rate in statistics posted Tuesday — hours before the news broke that the province will end masking mandates in two weeks.

Since mid-January, when Ontario resumed in-person schooling during the Omicron surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, public schools have been required to report the combined absence rate of students and staff each day. Case reporting and the closing of classrooms ceased at that time. The data is uploaded at 10:30 a.m. the following morning.

On Tuesday night, Toronto media outlets reported that Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore will announce the end of mask mandates in some settings at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Schools, along with restaurants and shops, would no longer have to require masks in schools as of March 21, which is the Monday following the March Break.

Children aged five to 11 have only been vaccine-eligible for about 14 weeks, and more than two-thirds of that age group in Ontario have not had their second dose. Several doctors questioned the rumoured decision by Dr. Moore and the Ontario PC Party government.

“This is a very bad decision,” wrote Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician with University Health Network. “Children (under age five) not vaxxed. Insufficient numbers of children 6-12 vaxxed. Highly transmissible variant. Non-zero risk to children. Unknown long COVID risks. Many high risk not boosted. Masks work to protect individual and those around. It’s not time.”

Just over 30 per cent of Hamilton children aged 5 to 11 have had two doses of vaccine.

Schools are not considered settings with a high degree of COVID-19 transmision. Rather, they are believed to mirror community spread.

On Monday, 47 out of 152 Hamilton public schools reporting to the province — not including alternative schools — showed an absence rate of 14 per cent. That works out to one in seven members of a school community. Hamilton was also hit relatively hard during the fifth wave of the pandemic. Ontario schoolchildren have lost more days of in-person learning than their peers in every other Canadian and U.S. jurisdiction having during the pandemic.

Thirty-five schools reported a 15 per cent absence rate. Thirty-two of those are part of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), which is the public board and has more schools located in the lower city than the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Board (HWCDSB). One HWCDSB school was above 15%, along with one apiece from Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir (French-language Catholic) and Conseil scolaire Viamonde (French-lang. public).

All six schools that were at 19 per cent of higher were in the lower city. Prince of Wales Elementary School had a 24.3 absence rate. Hillcrest Elementary, which is about 6 km away, reported 23.5. The closest high school to Prince of Wales, Bernie Custis Secondary, reported 18.8.

Cootes Paradise was the third-highest elementary school at 22.3 per cent, with nearby Westdale Secondary topping high schools 19.8. J. Edgar Davey Elementary School, in the downtown Beasley neighbourhood, reported 19.4.

Here are the 35 schools that reported at least 15 per cent on Monday, March 7.

School Board Absence(%)
Prince of Wales E PS Public 24.3
Hillcrest E PS Public 23.5
Cootes Paradise PS Public 22.3
Memorial Elementary School PS Public 20.7
Westdale SS Public 19.8
Dr. J. Edgar Davey E PS Public 19.4
Bernie Custis Secondary School Public 18.8
Cecil B Stirling S Public 18.1
Helen Detwiler Jr E S Public 17.6
Hess Street Jr PS Public 16.9
Lisgar Jr PS Public 16.9
Mountview Jr PS Public 16.9
Sir Winston Churchill SS Public 16.9
Collegiate Avenue ES Public 16.7
South Meadow PS Public 16.6
St. Lawrence Catholic E S Catholic 16.6
ÉS Georges-P-Vanier Fr. Public 16.2
Cathy Wever ES Public 16.1
ÉSAC Mère-Teresa Fr. Catholic 16.1
W H Ballard PS Public 16.1
Lawfield E S Public 16.0
Queen Mary PS Public 16.0
Richard Beasley Jr PS Public 16.0
Sherwood SS Public 16.0
Nora Frances Henderson Public 15.9
Ridgemount Jr PS Public 15.9
Strathcona Jr PS Public 15.9
Sir Allan MacNab SS Public 15.8
Viola Desmond Elementary School Public 15.6
Viscount Montgomery PS Public 15.5
Bennetto E S Public 15.4
Billy Green E S Public 15.3
Sir Wilfrid Laurier PS Public 15.2
Pauline Johnson PS Public 15.1
Rosedale E S Public 15.1

Eleven of the twelve schools whose absence rates were in the 14.1 to 14.9 per cent range are elementary schools. Cathedral High School, which is in central Hamilton, was the lone secondary school in that group.

School Board Absence(%)
Holy Name of Jesus Catholic E S Catholic 14.9
Tapleytown PS Public 14.9
Winona Elementary Public 14.8
Parkdale School Public 14.7
Lake Avenue PS Public 14.7
Templemead E S Public 14.7
Lincoln Alexander PS Public 14.3
Cathedral HS Catholic 14.2
Dundas Central PS Public 14.2
Franklin Road E PS Public 14.2
Buchanan Park School Public 14.1
Spring Valley School Public 14.1

Private schools are not included in the Ontario data. InTheHammer has also omitted alternative education institutions, whose absence rates are typically higher than other schools. For instance, on Monday, Turning Point Alternative Education reported a 25.0 absence rate, while James Street Alternative Education reported 23.4 and St. Charles Catholic Adult SS reported 21.2.

Prior to mid-January, Ontario parents were notified whenever a student had a confirmed COVID-19 case in their class or secondary school cohort. The province discontinued that in January, when in-person learning resumed. The province said closing a school would only be considered if a 30-per-cent at-large absence rate was reported, which critics said was an attempt to put the bar impossibly high for any school to be closed.

Only one school out of 4,844 in Ontario was closed on Monday.

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