Absence rate in Jamestown Public Schools still high due to coronavirus

More students are not in school than the average for previous years.

Middle school students exiting
Students exit the Jamestown Middle School Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, at the end of the day. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Student absences are still a concern two weeks after Jamestown Public Schools' schedule changed to classroom education four days per week for middle and high school students, said Rob Lech, superintendent.

"I think, like all year, changes present challenges," he said. "The biggest shift we had to make was student absences. How that impacts teachers."

Students at Jamestown High School and Jamestown Middle School shifted from being in the classroom two days per week and distance learning three days to being in the classroom four days on Nov. 16.

Normally, in past years, average absences would be about 4% to 6% with higher absences possible during cold and flu season.

"At the height of the coronavirus a couple of weeks ago, we were in the 25 to 30% range," Lech said.


The number of active COVID-19 cases in Stutsman County peaked on Nov. 17 at 517 cases. As of Dec. 2, the active case count stood at 154 people for Stutsman County. The level of active cases in Stutsman County has not been lower since Oct. 27.

The number of students absent due to coronavirus reflects the level of coronavirus cases in the community, Lech said. As the community active cases fall, so do the cases in school.

The effect the Thanksgiving holiday may have on improving active COVID-19 case numbers is unknown, said Robin Iszler, unit administrator for Central Valley Health District.

"We saw a spike a couple of weeks ago," she said. "At the same time, we saw some changes with the mayor making some mandates for precautions. That brought attention to people being more careful."

Any new spike in COVID-19 due to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday won't occur until seven to 14 days after the event.

Lech said school absences include students who are sick with COVID-19, students quarantining due to exposure and other issues not necessarily related to the coronavirus.

"We are not seeing a significant amount of spread in school," he said. "But absences are an issue at all levels."

The four-day-per-week classroom schedule allows time for teachers to work with students that have been absent during the week.


"That is why the plan included virtual days on Fridays," Lech said. "We're seeing hundreds of kids on Fridays to reach out to teachers."

The school is also seeing a higher rate of absences among teachers.

"We have far more absences because they are doing what we tell them to do," Lech said. "They are staying home if they are sick. We want them to stay home and get healthy."

Lech said most teachers who have quarantined are due to exposure at home or outside the school.

The future for the spread in the community and the school includes a lot of variables.

"If the county sees a spike, we see a spike," Lech said. "It is all contingent on the community following the best practices."

The timing of the distribution of a vaccine is also another variable that is unknown at this time.

"It is definitely encouraging right now," Lech said, "but we have to brace ourselves for some increases because of the holidays."


Does the future include another change in the school schedule? Lech said there is no way to know at this point.

"It depends on what the numbers tell us," Lech said.

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