Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mould cause of Berens River school closure

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MOULD, not asbestos, is keeping 350 students from class more than a month after the chief and council ordered the only school on Berens River First Nation to close.

The province ordered the school to remain closed until air-quality tests show the air is safe to breathe.

"Workplace safety is awaiting the results of the tests before making a final determination on the opening of the school," said an email from the Frontier School Division to the First Nation leaders.

The province expected the nursery-to-Grade 9 school might reopen as early as Jan. 7, but there is no word on a new timeline now.

Mould, overcrowding and electrical problems have led to the closing of several First Nations schools in Manitoba, including Oxford House Elementary School in 2010 and a school in God's River in 2009.

Meanwhile, the school division that is overseeing the air-quality problems in Berens River is also suing the First Nation.

Frontier claims the band owes it for keeping the school running with a staff of 100 teachers and support workers.

Frontier School Division filed suit for $6.7 million in tuition it says it's owed under the contract with Berens River.

The debt's still climbing, according to parents who attended a meeting called by school division officials in Berens last month.

"Frontier had to borrow money from the banks to cover salaries and everything for the school. That's what they told us in the meeting that Berens owes them $9 million," said one man who attended the meeting.

Chief George Kemp could not be reached for comment.

George Green, a councillor at the First Nation, initially declined comment Wednesday but then denied Berens owes the school division money, when asked about the lawsuit.

The First Nation has filed no statement of defence.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 A2

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