Update on COVID-19 Absenteeism in the Sioux City Community School District

Dec 14, 2020

Credit pxhere.com

The Sioux City Community School Board meets tonight and the issue of education during the COVID-19 pandemic will be a likely discussion.

Two board members sent the superintendent a letter last week calling for more transparency in reporting COVID-19 cases.  They believe they’re not seeing the full picture when it comes to absentee rates due to virus-related quarantines.

“There’s more doubt from what we are hearing from teachers and parents.” 

That’s school board member Dan Greenwell commenting to Siouxland Public Media last week.  Greenwell along with school board member Taylor Goodvin want the district to expand the information they provide the board and public.  Goodvin called for returning to hybrid learning at the last board meeting late last month.

“You had a 4-3 split at the last meeting, but you had it without the benefit of absenteeism."

Board President Perla Alarcon-Flory and Monique Scarlett also favored moving to hybrid, but also advocated for virtually learning in previous interviews with Siouxland Public Media News.

Greenwell did support hybrid learning at the beginning of the school year.  He does favor face-to-face instruction, but is open to all other options to keep kids and staff safe.  Board President Perla Alarcon-Flory and Monique Scarlett want students to learn virtually.

Every Friday, the school district puts out a weekly update showing the number of cases among staff and students.

The week of December 7th through the 11th showed a dozen positive cases of COVID-19 between students and zero for staff.  The district doesn’t provide a running total since the beginning of the school year.  Greenwell wants that to change.

Today, Greenwell provided Siouxland Public Media with an email sent to board members about absentee rates.  Data show a much higher level of absentee rates in the school district, especially at the high school level and a district-wide absentee rate of more than 10% on December 8th.  An internal memo showed 75% of absentee was related to COVID-19. (You can see the memo at the bottom of this story.)

SIOUX CITY SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER DAN GREENWELL RELEASED HIS OWN DATA SURROUNDING COVID-19 ABSENTEE RATES
Credit Sioux City School Board Member Dan Greenwell

The school district did release a statement surrounding the transparency issues it says in part, school district  is working collaboratively with the full Board to maintain timely and transparent communication for our families and the public about all COVID-19 and Return-to-Learn topics. Each Board meeting offers an opportunity for the Board to weigh in on these topics and guide District action. These discussions are all public and fully transparent to keep the community informed. Additionally, COVID-19 case details are released each week by the District.

Memo from the Associate Principal of the Sioux City Community School District: 

Good Afternoon Board Members,

During the COVID-19 pandemic, regular monitoring of student attendance occurs. Building principals keep track of daily attendance rates and notify me when illness rates rise above 7%. 

In addition to the building principals monitoring attendance, I also monitor attendance rates. I was completing a building level analysis every four days and am now completing a building level analysis every Friday, as requested by a board member. Attached is the building level analysis for December 8, 2020. The building level analysis does not include students enrolled in the virtual learning option. Special ad hoc reports were built in August to create the reports that remove the virtual students’ attendance from the reports.

There is a lot of information regarding absences in the report attached. Here is an explanation of the information contained in the building level analysis:

The first two columns are the percent and the number of students who are absent in the District and in each building due to illnesses. The illnesses include students absent due to COVID symptoms and students that we have been informed have tested positive for COVID. It also includes students absent due to other illnesses. We have not identified in our reporting system just students that test positive for COVID. There are two reasons why we have not created a separate identification system for COVID positive students. The first reason is that we did not want to identify students that were COVID positive because of the stigma associated with contraction and possible spread of the virus. We do not want students’ social or emotional health impacted because they have been identified as COVID positive in our reporting system. The second reason is that the Iowa Department of Education asks us to report all illnesses, if and when we request to move to a virtual learning option due to illnesses. The Iowa Department of Education does not ask us to report just the number or percent of COVID cases. Siouxland District Health is responsible for reporting publicly the number of COVID cases. However, within the reporting system, we have a sense of the number of students that are absent due to COVID symptoms or are COVID positive. The vast majority (around 75%) of the illnesses that are being reported in the second column are associated with COVID (COVID symptoms or COVID positive). 

The third and fourth columns report the percent and number of students who are absent in the District and each building due to “Excused Parent Request”. If students have been a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID, we are coding their absence as “Excused Parent Request” in our reporting system. Students who are identified as close contacts at school are coded as “Excused Parent Request”. Most of the students coded “Excused Parent Request” are close contacts because of contacts outside of school. We have students that are quarantined and then test positive for COVID and the positive test is not reported to the school. It is reasonable to assume that the number and percentage of students coded as “Excused Parent Request” may actually be lower and the number and percentage of students with COVID is higher.

The last column is the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) for the District and buildings on December 8. The ADA is calculated for that specific day, so for example, the ADA for December 8 was 88.49%. That means that 88.49% of the students were in attendance on December 8. There were approximately 11,260 students present on December 8. On December 1 and December 8, the Average Daily Attendance was close to 88.5% each day.

I would like to further explain the report by using Irving Elementary’s attendance report for December 8 as the example. There were 2.60% or the equivalent of 17.5 students absent on that day due to illnesses, including students that have tested positive for COVID or have COVID symptoms. There were 2.23% of the students or the equivalent of 15 students absent on December 8 due to Excused Parent Request. This number includes students that are quarantined because someone in their home has tested positive for COVID and they are a close contact to that person. When you add 2.6% and 2.23% you get 4.83%. The Average Daily Attendance for December 8 was 94.80%. When you add 4.83% of the students that you know were absent because of illness and quarantine to the ADA, you get 99.63%. There were .37% of the students absent from Irving on December 8 for other reasons.

Each Friday, Mandie Mayo reports the number of confirmed COVID cases for students and staff that were in the schools for that week. This report is made available to the public when it is placed on the District’s website. This report is also shared with board members each Friday. This report is beneficial to the District because we are watching the number of cases that are present in the buildings to prepare for or prevent further spread of the virus within the schools.

I hope this explanation and report helps you understand the report that is attached and why this report is beneficial to me as I monitor attendance within the District. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. 

I hope you have an enjoyable weekend.

Dr. Kim Buryanek | Associate Superintendent 

Sioux City Community School District 

Ph: (712) 279-6083 |  www.siouxcityschools.org