‘We’re missing a lot of kids’: Spokane student absence rates rise with COVID surge as schools work to stay open

SPOKANE, Wash. — About 6,000 students did not show up to class in Spokane Public Schools on Wednesday and that number is climbing.

Barbie Stensgar’s kids are part of that number. Stensgar says her son, Turai, tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

“Unfortunately, he was a part of the after winter break surge that happened,” Stensgar said.

Turai’s actually missed a lot of class this year because of COVID-19. Stensgar says he’s missed at least a week every month since the start of school because of being in close contact or had similar symptoms to COVID and needed to go get tested.

Tuari is just one many kids who are going through this in schools in the Inland Northwest.

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard says student absence rates have ranged between 10-percent to 20-percent in the past few weeks with COVID surges. On Wednesday, he said 20-percent of the district’s 30,000 students didn’t attend school.

RELATED: Spokane Schools report more than 500 cases of COVID this week

The district’s COVID dashboard updated Friday evening, showing more than 1,100 people in quarantine. SPS’ dashboard says it had 539 confirmed cases, with 533 originating outside of school.

In the Coeur d’Alene School District student absences are much lower. Around seven-percent of their students are not showing up, with that being the weekly average. The district’s COVID dashboard shows 221 people testing positive this week.

The Mead School District’s COVID dashboard shows more than 200 of its students in high school have positive COVID tests in the last 10 days among many other cases in other schools.

The Central Valley School District says it’s had an increase in absences as well. Its COVID dashboard says at least 300 people in its high schools are confirmed to have COVID.

The East Valley School District says its student absence rate varies from 12 and 30 percent. The district says the lower percentage rates are in its elementary schools whereas its middle and high schools are seeing between a 20 to 30 percent of its students gone.

The West Valley School District saw an overall student absence rate of 13-percent. Superintendent Kyle Rydell says in a typical month, the absence rate is at seven-percent. Absences vary from building to building. One school in the district saw seven-percent of students missing, while another was as high as 19.5-percent.

“I’d say parents are doing a great job at keeping kids home when they’re not feeling well, and of course, isolating those positive cases as well is helping out. But, yeah, we’re missing a lot of kids,” he said.

Most students are gone due to testing positive for COVID-19 or getting exposed. While some have actual symptoms, others are just waiting to get their test results back, which can take days.

Some West Valley teachers are sending schoolwork home so students can stay caught up from home. Other districts are following suit.

“We’re using a lot of the digital opportunities, whether it’s Google classroom, especially in secondary,” Rydell said. “Our elementary teachers are doing a great job in providing up-to-date information or assignments they can complete.”

WVSD already has five virtual classrooms for students and teachers who have been exposed or confirmed cases. It is all on a case-by-case basis as districts work with the Spokane Regional Health District on what to do.

Each district is doing its own thing as it tries to get handle on student and staff absences. While some are getting ready to return remote learning just in case, others are switching schedules.

RELATED: Parents left to deal with Spokane Schools’ calendar change

RELATED: How have school COVID protocols impacted your family?

RELATED: Do you have child care plans in the case COVID cancels school?