Education Minister Peter Bjornson has ordered school divisions to begin immediately posting online the level of absence for each school on a daily basis -- either a message of no unusual absenteeism, or higher than usual absenteeism.
Bjornson's letter sent out Tuesday does not define unusual absenteeism, nor does it make any reference to the H1N1 flu.
Bjornson announced two weeks ago that divisions would have to provide daily updates of absenteeism on their websites, but only put it in writing Tuesday.
So far in the city, only Pembina Trails School Division had been posting a daily update of school-by-school absences 10 per cent above the seasonal norms. And to date, none has had that many students absent.
That 10-per-cent-above-usual figure was previously to have triggered schools alerting their public health nurse, but Bjornson's letter emphasizes that schools must post publicly anything above normal absences.
School divisions had been slow to respond until they got orders in writing from Bjornson, and what had been posted so far varied widely.
Interlake School Division listed all its schools and said it will indicate if any exceed 10 per cent absenteeism.
Seven Oaks School Division has a flu pandemic link on its home page, which says Seven Oaks will go public if a school exceeds seasonal norms in absences three consecutive days.
Louis Riel division superintendent Terry Borys has a note on the division's home page -- titled "Do you have ConFLUsion?" -- notifying parents that LRSD won't be posting anything until Bjornson tells educators in writing what he wants them to do.
But meanwhile, says Borys, the division has not had any confirmed cases of H1N1.
Superintendents met Sept. 23 with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, which reiterated earlier messages from the province that health authorities will handle the release of all flu information -- which would not include identifying an individual school in any way.
As Borys wrote on Louis Riel's website: "We understood that the Province (and in particular Manitoba Health) would communicate when influenza is circulating in public schools. Indeed, we were told that when we start to get cases of H1N1, that we should all avoid providing detailed information about specific student numbers or schools and give the main message that influenza has arrived, and what that means to all schools."
But when the Free Press reported last month that school divisions would not be publicly identifying any unusual health problems at individual schools in the face of a possible flu pandemic, there was strong reader reaction demanding information.
And when Premier Gary Doer later that day went on CJOB radio and said that, as a parent, he'd want to know if there was flu in his child's school, Bjornson announced a change in policy within a few hours.
Winnipeg, St. James-Assiniboia, River East Transcona and Seine River have been posting only the Manitoba Health messages and links that were issued months ago. Just outside the city, Sunrise and Lord Selkirk have done the same.
What minister says
WHAT Education Minister Peter Bjornson is telling school divisions to publish each day on their websites:
"....post one of the following messages for each school in the division, on their division website as soon as possible, depending on the circumstances that day:
No unusual absenteeism reported.
Higher than usual absenteeism reported
AS OF (date/time)"
Bjornson said the following should also be posted:
"When a report of unusual absenteeism is received, the school contacts public health for expert advice and direction. Public health will tell the school if any changes need to be made to reduce the spread of infection, and the school will inform parents of these recommended changes.
"It is important to note that absenteeism reports may not be because of the flu. Absenteeism may be related to other medical or non-medical reasons.
For more information on how to reduce your risk of H1N1 flu, visit www.manitoba.ca/flu."
Bjornson also told school divisions that while he expects them to let public health know the reasons for absences, "There is no requirement to include specific information on the website about the percentage of students away, number of students away, reasons for absenteeism, or other attendance data."