Forty-three students and staff members within Rocky View Schools (RVS) have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year, including six since the start of November, according to Superintendent Greg Luterbach.
Luterbach provided an update on how COVID-19 has impacted the public school district at RVS' Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 6.
“We certainly appreciate the efforts of all the school administrations because these calls come from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.,” he said. “They drop everything, including watching their kid’s hockey game or being at the grocery store, and then run back to the school to get rolling about informing families."
According to Luterbach, the pandemic has negatively impacted student attendance. He noted RVS has experienced a three to four per cent average reduction in attendance compared to last year. The decrease is due to students needing to self-isolate after a positive test is confirmed by someone they were in close contact with.
Luterbach highlighted George McDougall High School where, as of the meeting, more than 150 students and staff members had to self-isolate following a positive case. As of Nov. 8, George McDougall is listed as "open" on the Alberta government’s interactive COVID-19 school status map, which means the school has two to four active cases of COVID-19.
“There’s no doubt when there’s a high school case, the number of kids required to self-isolate is significantly higher than an elementary [school],” Luterbach said.
Luterbach noted elementary schools follow a cohort model, so each student has fewer close contacts throughout the school day. If a positive case is identified, he said it may only impact one or two classrooms.
“In most high schools, when there’s a case, it’s four classes, possibly a jazz band, possibly a sports team,” he said.
Ward 5 Trustee Judy Hunter asked if AHS has studied the effectiveness of kids needing to self-isolate for 10 days after a positive test is confirmed.
“I’m thinking by this time, they should have some data to say if it’s an effective strategy or a necessary strategy,” she said, bringing up an example of more than 100 students and 12 teachers from Cochrane High School self-isolating.
“That was a significant impact. I’m thinking, is that necessary? Surely, by this point, they have their data analysis.”
Luterbach replied that on Nov. 2, Alberta Education notified parents of changes made by AHS to the daily symptoms checklist for children under the age of 18. Under the changes, children who experience a runny nose or sore throat are no longer required to isolate for the full 10 days but can return to school when their symptoms are gone.
Ward 1 Trustee Shali Baziuk asked about the delayed confirmation of positive cases in schools by AHS, compared to when the information comes from the principal of the school. Luterbach replied the delay has gotten longer in recent weeks.
“Of those 43 cases, I’d confidently say at least 35 of those, we knew before we ever got confirmation from AHS,” he said. “In the first few weeks, when a principal said they heard from a parent that a child tested positive, I’d say ‘OK, I’ll get a call tomorrow from AHS.’ Then that conversation became, ‘I’ll get a call the day after tomorrow.’ Then it came three or four days, and now, it’s taking five days between when that family gets the text confirming their test before we’re informed.”