Close to half of Houston’s public school students stayed home when classes resumed after the Christmas break as worries about the spread of COVID-19 grew.
And that had educators issuing warnings to parents that students staying at home would not receive special treatment.
School District 54 superintendent Mike McDiarmid placed the absentee rate at 40 to 50 per cent throughout all three of Houston’s public schools.
But that rate of absenteeism has started to decline.
“This week we are seeing improved numbers and we expect that to continue as people become more comfortable sending their children back to schools,” said McDiarmid late last week.
In a letter to parents and guardians, also last week, Houston Secondary and Twain Sullivan Elementary principal Jaksun Grice acknowledged that while COVID-19 cases in Houston has caused concern resulting in students being kept home, students are still expected to attend classes.
“While we respect the decisions individual families make, it is also important for the school to be very forthright about what is expected of teachers if students do not attend school now,” Grice wrote.
“If a student does not come to school because of COVID concerns, be aware that they will be missing learning and are still responsible for the material they missed while absent.”
“Teachers will not be sending work packages home or providing lessons to students who choose to stay away from school due to concerns about COVID. Teachers are only expected to teach and provide materials to the students who are showing up for class,” Grice continued.
The principal said both schools are following COVID protocols as set by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer.
“Know that our schools are safe and clean. We are very diligent in our COVID protocols and it has been shown that COVID transmission rates are very low in schools.”
The one exception is for students who are sick or are awaiting results of a COVID test, Grice added.
“This is very different than students who are healthy yet not attending school,” he affirmed.
Grice said the expectation is that students attend classes unless they are being home-schooled or are enrolled in a distributed learning program.
McDiarmid noted that the district’s distributed learning program for secondary and elementary students functions in the same fashion as an in-person class — students cannot move in and out at will.
“They have to sign up for the semester at the secondary level and the elementary is full time,” he said.
To date, the school district is down 11 students from projections for its in-person instruction while the elementary portion of its distributed learning program is full and there are more secondary students enrolled in distributed learning than last year, McDiarmid added.
Houston and Topley are within the Smithers Local Health Area along with Telkwa, Smithers and Witset (formerly Moricetown). From January 2020 to the end of December 2020, 122 COVID cases had been registered in the Smithers Local Health Area. Some of those cases were through a community outbreak at Witset.
For the one week period from Dec. 27, 2020 to Jan. 2, 2021, statistics show there were 20 new cases within the Smithers Local Health Area.