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Feds say they will try to keep Lake St. Martin students together

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The federal government issued a statement late Wednesday saying Ottawa is negotiating with Lake St. Martin First Nation to find a way to keep evacuated students together in school.

An estimated 85 Lake St. Martin students lost their school in Winnipeg when the Winnipeg Fire Department shut down the building for fire code infractions.

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Originally, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan in Ottawa told the community that the department would take over the schooling responsibilities from the First Nation and split the students up among different Winnipeg schools.

Late Wednesday, Ottawa suggested it was shifting its stand.

"Our priority remains ensuring that the students are able to continue with their studies with minimal interruptions, and in a safe environment," a regional departmental spokeswoman said by email.

"To that end we are in active discussions with the province to present the students, their parents, and the First Nation with options that would allow the students to remain together in a provincial school."

The department said it will now communicate directly with parents, who are among 2,000 First Nation flood evacuees in the province, for a solution to keep the students together in school.

There was no mention, however, of reopening the school that was shut down. Community leaders, meanwhile report that the repairs are being completed and arrangements are being made for fire officials to conduct another inspection, with a view to reopening the school.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs weighed into the political debate around the issue earlier Wednesday.

Manitoba’s chiefs want 85 Lake St. Martin school children back in the classroom and they’re asking Ottawa to stop using them as political pawns in a battle over who controls the community’s off-reserve school.

Manitoba’s chiefs summoned federal officials to a meeting to reopen the school Lake St. Martin operates for its school-age evacuee students.

"I find it appalling that your solution to a building code issue is forced separation for these school-age children," Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak wrote the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan in a letter Tuesday.

History

Updated on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:44 PM CST: Adds link to letter.

6:33 PM: Updates with Ottawa response

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