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Last week, Edmonton public schools reported around a 13 per cent absentee rate among its student population, and the Catholic school division reported 16 per cent.

Rates were lower in Calgary, hovering around 8.8 per cent. While flu season is officially here, reports are the high numbers of absent students are occurring earlier than usual this year. Schools are required to report to Alberta Health Services when absence levels reach 10 per cent or more so it can investigate a potential outbreak.

Unlike in Calgary and Edmonton schools, both the Medicine Hat public and Catholic divisions had last week off for a midterm break. Superintendent of schools for the Medicine Hat Catholic Board, Dwayne Zarichny, stated by e-mail, “As of Nov. 15, we’ve had a slight increase of staff and student absences due to illness, but nothing significant at this time. As a division, we benefited greatly from our Health and Wellness November break (Nov. 7-11), this gave our students and staff an opportunity to rest, especially if they were experiencing cold and flu symptoms.”

The Medicine Hat Public School Division is monitoring the situation but has not had any schools reported to AHS. The division hopes having last week off has helped curb the spread of viruses.

Prairie Rose Public Schools students were in class Monday and Tuesday last week but were off Wednesday to Friday. They are seeing absences due to illness but not to a degree it has resulted in disruption to classes or the closure of schools. PRPS is part of a program called ARTSSN (Alberta Real Time Syndromic Surveillance Network) and doesn’t track numbers at the division level.

The ARTSSN program sends a daily report on absenteeism data to AHS, which uses that to determine whether to call an individual school to get more information based on the number of absences reported. If AHS decides there are enough students and staff absences due to illness, it will then send a letter to the school to share with families, which is generally based on the 10 per cent absentee figure.

Due to the small sizes of some schools in Prairie Rose, with some having a total of 30 staff and students combined, it can be quite easy to hit the 10 per cent mark.

This year PRPS has had a few letters go home but the largest area that has been impacted is bus cancellations. With a shortage of bus drivers in the area, it is often not possible to find a spare driver to cover the route when another is sick.