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Lake St. Martin students still out of school

Off-reserve school closed due to fire infractions, chief unhappy with offer

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As the week closed, Lake St. Martin students were still out of school and the First Nation was still at odds with the federal and provincial governments over who’s in charge of their education.

Eighty-five displaced students from Lake St. Martin had no school to go to last week, after the Winnipeg Fire Department closed their off-reserve school for fire code infractions.

By early next week, they’ll have a choice of three schools, plus the existing one that was closed down and is being repaired.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan brokered a deal with Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan to open one of three sites in the Louis Riel School Division: École Provencher, Glenwood School or René Deleurme Centre.

Duncan and Allan sent a letter to Lake St. Martin outlining the formal offer. The province said the students could be in school by Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, federal sources confirmed Lake St. Martin is the only First Nation among 2,000 evacuees that’s running its own school as if it were back home at its Interlake reserve.

And in an indication that not everyone backs the school, federal records show 60 students who used to attend school on Lake St. Martin and transferred to the off-reserve school in Winnipeg last year aren’t enrolled anymore. They’re going to other schools around Winnipeg.

Under the latest federal-provincial proposal, Provencher and Glenwood would operate as schools within schools, to keep Lake St. Martin students together.

The Deleurme Centre is vacant and would be theirs alone.

"We want to stress the options… directly address the community’s desire to ensure the students… remain together," the federal minister said in the letter obtained by the Free Press.

"Safe, secure and culturally appropriate," were phrases that peppered the official correspondence.

The offer followed pledges from both federal and provincial governments to find new classrooms and keep the kids together.

A series of departmental letters to the First Nation followed up on Duncan’s and Allan’s official correspondence; only they weren’t nearly as polite.

Those letters effectively ordered the First Nation to fall in line.

"AANDC has accepted the solution proposed by the Louis Riel School Division and the Province of Manitoba and asks you to begin making arrangements for the transfer," one letter said.

The First Nation sent a terse reply, rejecting the offer as an intrusion on its sovereignty.

The chief added that there’s also the matter of the lease at 1970 Ness Ave.

It’s a three-year deal, with a private owner who went to a lot of expense to fix the fire code infractions.

Fire department officials were due back for another inspection, and the school could reopen as early as next week, the chief wrote.

"Under the circumstances, moving the school is both unnecessary and unwise," Sinclair told the two ministers.

As of late Friday, with both sides entrenched, there was no word on when or where the 85 students would hit the books again.

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