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New Brunswick superintendent not surprised by spike in school absentee rate

Click to play video 'Anglophone school district school reporting spike in absentee rates' Anglophone school district school reporting spike in absentee rates
WATCH: The district in New Brunswick is reporting a spike in absentee rates for elementary and middle school students. But the numbers are not surprising for the superintendent. Tim Roszell explains.

New Brunswick’s Anglophone School District South is reporting a spike in illness-related absentee rates for elementary and middle school students in the first month of the school year.

Superintendent Zoë Watson said the Anglophone School District South (ASDS) examined numbers for students in kindergarten through Grade 8 and found a 132 per cent increase in days missed by students due to “illness,” when compared with numbers from September 2019.

Watson said the district has been working to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 within the school system, including asking students to stay home if they’re exhibiting any two of a number of symptoms identified by New Brunswick public health.

READ MORE: New school year begins in New Brunswick amid COVID-19 pandemic

So, she said the numbers did not surprise her.

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“Because we have, across the province, asked parents, family members each morning before their child goes to school to talk to them about how they feel,” Watson said. “So everyone’s been very focused on that.”

Watson said they’ve also noticed more absences among staff, including teachers, custodians and bus drivers.

She said the district has leaned on its casual staff to fill the gaps because all the positions need to be filled when a regular staff member is not at work.

“Thus far, the only group where it’s been more of a challenge would be the custodial group,” she said. “We are monitoring that because there would be additional expectations this year for enhanced cleaning.”

Watson also said ASDS is constantly adding to the casual staff list.

READ MORE: New Brunswick high school students still waiting for ‘blended learning’ laptops

The provincial minister responsible for education echoed Watson’s assessment of the situation.

“As we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic together, it is essential that the health and safety of students and school staff is prioritized and we anticipated students would be staying home from school more often this year,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy in an email to Global News.

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“We are aware parents have expressed concern regarding wait times for testing and we are committed to working across government to explore potential solutions.

“When a student is sick, the first concern is for their health.  Once the student is feeling better, our priority is to ensure students are able to catch up on material they missed.”

Watson believes teachers, students and parents are managing well with pandemic-related changes to their schools. She said she does not foresee any major issues with the high absentee rate.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: What parents need to know about sending kids to school in cold, flu season' Coronavirus: What parents need to know about sending kids to school in cold, flu season
Coronavirus: What parents need to know about sending kids to school in cold, flu season