Covid-19 updates, Featured, Local News

Covid in schools leads to 50% absenteeism

By Curt Peterson

At a recent Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCSU) board meeting concern was raised about effects the latest variant of Covid is having on attendance.

Student attendance below 51% on a given day means that day won’t count toward the state-required minimum number of education days for that school.

Killington Elementary attendance fell below 50% the day of the meeting, May 2.

“I’ve applied for a waiver from the state so that it will count as a school day,” Superintendent Sherry Sousa wrote to the Mountain Times. “I anticipate it will.”

WCSU Covid Coordinator Katy Burke said districts assume every student is being exposed to Covid variants, and no longer require entire cohorts to quarantine due to a positive test.

“It’s an honor system,” Burke said. “If a student has any symptoms, they are asked to test. If they are positive, they should stay home and begin a 5-day self-isolation quarantine.”

At the end of five days, if symptoms disappear or significantly diminish, the student may return to class. If not, they are asked to test and stay home until symptoms abate, or they test negative, Burke explained.

According to the WCSU website Covid dashboard’s active-student-cases-over-time graph, January 2022 had the highest spike since September, showing 120 active cases. By February that number had dropped to fewer than 12. As of May 16 the 14-day total was 75 — and those are only the known cases. With families using primarily at-home testing, if they choose to test at all, the true case counts are likely significantly higher. Absenteeism provides another metric.

There are less than 1,000 students in the seven-town district.

“Each building has had spikes in classrooms with a higher presence of Covid and some buildings have seen more than others,” Sousa said. Attendance in the other schools has been in the 70 % to 80 % range, she added.

Burke believes Vermont’s proactive response to Covid when the pandemic started, is one reason for the current case spike.

“Our strong tactics kept early cases to a minimum — we were always one of two states having the fewest cases,” she explained. “Fewer people exposed produced fewer people with natural immunity through exposure.”

She said absences are about even between vaccinated and unvaccinated students, but the pre-kindergarten 3- and 4-year-olds, for whom there is no vaccine available, have been affected most.

And students aren’t the only group affected by illness.

“We have also had some challenges (among) faculty,” Sousa said, “which has resulted in some multiple day closings of our pre-kindergarten classrooms.”

Sousa made clear that not all absences are due to Covid symptoms — normal absences for more common illness continue as part of the statistics.

“I am hoping that this will be the last week that Covid will be impacting our schools … as much as it has, as most students and staff should be returning and the trends have been declining,” Sousa said.

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