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Absence rates up in some rural schools

Health officials refuse to say if flu to blame

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Three rural schools reported higher-than-usual absentee rates Friday -- but Manitoba Health is not saying whether there is any sign that H1N1 was involved at any of the schools.The schools are Ashern Early Years School, a kindergarten to Grade 4 school in Lakeshore School Division, and two schools in Turtle River S.D. -- the K-12 Alonsa School and Grass River School, a Hutterite colony school near Glenella. Superintendents of the two school divisions were not available.

Manitoba Health declined to say whether H1N1 is involved in the absences.

A Health Department official said: "Public health will work with schools to provide recommendations. If there is a reason to provide public information about a health situation in a school, we'll do so -- otherwise it will be addressed by local public health, the school and parents as has been the normal practice."

Ashern Early Years has about 100 students, Alonsa 170, and Grass River 30.

Education Minister Peter Bjornson told school divisions earlier this week to post daily reports on their websites listing each school as either reporting no unusual absenteeism or higher than usual absenteeism.

Bjornson cautioned that having above-normal absenteeism does not necessarily mean that there is H1N1 in that school, nor did he define higher than usual.

So far, about 80 per cent of the province's school divisions are listing their absence rates, though only Pembina Trails, St. James-Assiniboia and Seine River have done so in Winnipeg. Louis Riel School Division says it will start posting absences Monday, River East Transcona on Tuesday, and Winnipeg S.D. soon.

How Manitoba school divisions are reporting each school's daily absences is quite literally all over the map.

Some list all the schools and their absentee status in an easy-to-read graph on the home page, such as Morden-based Western, Stonewall-area Interlake, and Flin Flon.

Mountain View in Dauphin does not list schools, but reports on its home page that no school has unusual levels of absence.

Many divisions have a link to a similar graph of all schools, such as Pembina Trails, Pine Creek in Gladstone, Mystery Lake in Thompson, and Garden Valley in Winkler.

Some divisions require parents to go deeper into the website to call up the websites of individual schools, such as Neepawa-area Beautiful Plains, Fort la Bosse in the Virden region, and Rolling River in Minnedosa.

Some schools in Rolling River and Altona-area Border Land S.D. were still listing Wednesday's absentee reports early Friday afternoon.

Seine River had a link to a list of schools, but the city-rural division had added a third category of schools with below-normal absences.

Southwest Horizon in the Souris area did not appear to have a home page pointer, and not all Southwest Horizon schools were reporting absences on their websites.

Kelsey S.D. in The Pas was one of several whose list required parents to download a file, which proved difficult to open.

Brandon, Seven Oaks, Whiteshell, Prairie Rose and Red River Valley appeared to have no absentee reports on their websites Friday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2009 A8

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