Manitoba

Mould keeps hundreds of students away from northern Manitoba school for 2 months

Hundreds of students on a northern Manitoba First Nation haven't attended school for two months after it was shuttered due to mould concerns.

Community's K-12 school closed in December; could reopen in coming days, pending test results

Nadine Sinclair said her 8-year-old son first developed rashes in 2017. An allergist told her it was caused due to a reaction to mould. (Submitted by Nadine Sinclair)

Hundreds of students on a northern Manitoba First Nation haven't attended school for two months after it was shuttered due to mould concerns.

About 500 students attend the kindergarten to Grade 12 school on Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, also known as Pukatawagan, Man., located 700 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The discovery of mould has left students in the fly-in community, including Nadine Sinclair's 8-year-old son, Nathaniel, on an extended break.

"It's hard for us," said Sinclair, who also works at the school as an education assistant. "I know the parents feel frustrated. I'm getting frustrated, too."

Sinclair said the school was closed in early December by the community's education authority due to the mould and concerns for the safety of students and staff. 

School closure confirmed 

A spokesperson for federal Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan confirmed the school's closure in a statement and said the department has been in contact with leaders in the community to discuss their concerns. 

"We are taking this issue very seriously," the statement read, adding that a meeting between ISC officials and chief and council took place on Jan. 17.

Air quality testing found elevated levels of mould in two rooms at the school that were reportedly not in use while the school was open, according to ISC.

The testing did not find mould anywhere else in the school.

The agency said it is working with community leadership to determine the cause of the mould.

Repeated calls by CBC News to school officials and Mathias Colomb Cree Nation's chief and council this week haven't been returned.

Son develops rash

Sinclair said she first became concerned after her son developed rashes in 2017. A doctor referred him to an allergist, who found he was reacting to mould. He started complaining last year about frequent headaches and fatigue.

She said the symptoms have stopped since he left school in early December. 

"He's been doing better," she said. "He hasn't been complaining about headaches. He hasn't been complaining about being itchy or anything like that." 

Take-home packages prepared 

Sinclair said teachers have been teaching some classes in a small adult education centre and in the local Roman Catholic church. But, there isn't enough room for all of the students. 

"There's only limited places in Pukatawagan for us to teach the students," said Sinclair. "The high school students are getting frustrated.

"The high school teachers give them their work and everything to do. But they need that help from the high school teachers," Sinclair added. "It's really hard to find a place to teach these students."

ISC said it is working with chief and council to ensure take-home packages are available for students so they can continue their studies during the school's closure.

The agency said remediation work continues at the school and another air quality test is scheduled to take place on Friday. 

If no risk from mould is found in the new test, the school is expected reopen next Monday, the agency said Wednesday evening. 

Sinclair said she'll be eagerly awaiting updates on the air quality testing and hopes it reopens soon.

"We can't even go inside and get our school supplies," she said. "The stuff we need to teach these students."
 

About the Author

Riley Laychuk is CBC's reporter based in Brandon, covering rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback: riley.laychuk@cbc.ca.