The School District 70 administration office in Port Alberni. AV NEWS FILE PHOTO

The School District 70 administration office in Port Alberni. AV NEWS FILE PHOTO

Alberni schools struggle with attendance amid COVID-19 exposures

Numbers in SD70 have fluctuated everytime an exposure is noted: superintendent Greg Smyth

Port Alberni’s school district is worried about student attendance after a few positive COVID-19 cases in Alberni Valley schools last month.

School District 70 (Pacific Rim) superintendent Greg Smyth said during a school board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8 that attendance has “fluctuated tremendously” in SD70 schools.

“There’s a lot of of learning lost…and it’s a concern to us,” he said.

Smyth attributed some of the attendance issues to the recent COVID-19 exposures at several schools in the Alberni Valley. Other school districts on Vancouver Island are not experiencing this problem “to the same extent,” he said, but SD70 has had more school exposures—seven—than most other districts.

READ MORE: Four Alberni schools reporting COVID-19 exposures

“Those who have had exposures in schools struggle mightily with attendance in the days and weeks that follow,” he said. “You combine that with the increase in case counts and many families are saying they’re going to play it safe for the remainder of December and be back in January.”

He added that a number of students are registered in distributed learning (DL) programs, but distributed learning does not necessarily work for everyone.

“Success rates in DL programs are much lower than they are in regular classes,” he said.

Teachers and school staff have been reaching out to students who haven’t been attending school and engaging with families to figure out how to get kids back in school, said Smyth. Despite the recent exposures, Smyth assured the board on Wednesday that school is “a safe place to be” right now.

“Teachers are doing an amazing job in trying to provide information, materials and so on for families,” he said. “But it’s a real challenging time right now in schools when lots of students are not attending.”

SD70 received some supplemental funding this year from the federal and provincial governments to support a safe return to school. The majority of the more than $600,000 in federal funding mostly went to teachers, support staff and learning supports. The provincial funding, which amounts to more than $300,000, has mostly gone towards increased cleaning. The rest of the provincial funding was spent on masks, shields, hygiene technology and cleaning supplies.

“There’s been lots of work done there to make schools safer for students to return,” said Smyth.

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