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Trustee charges province with class discrimination

Lead contamination at WSD school remains unaddressed

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The field at Weston School in Winnipeg was fenced off in 2018 after it was found to have more than 1,000 mg/g lead levels in some areas.</p>


The field at Weston School in Winnipeg was fenced off in 2018 after it was found to have more than 1,000 mg/g lead levels in some areas.

A Winnipeg School Division trustee says the provincial government has been dragging its feet on dealing with lead contamination at Weston School because the children who go there come from poor families.

School trustee Jennifer Chen called on the provincial government to immediately release a newly minted report on lead contamination at the school’s grass field at a division board meeting Monday.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Winnipeg School Division Trustee Jennifer Chen says action is needed.</p>

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg School Division Trustee Jennifer Chen says action is needed.

The students have not had consistent access to the field since the fall of 2018 following media reports the provincial government had commissioned testing that found lead concentrations in the soil higher than acceptable levels.

"We are at a critical time to take action now to make sure our kids have access to a playing field in September 2020 when they start a new school year," Chen said.

"No government has been taking action on this issue and I do think there’s an issue here of class discrimination."

The province has soil reports dating back to 1976 that show elevated lead levels in soil around the Weston area. Earlier this year, the province confirmed no money is earmarked in the budget for soil remediation in Weston.

Chen says the province received a new report on possible solutions to the ongoing issue in November but has not shared it with the school division or affected families.

April Roller, who has two children enrolled at Weston School, says she agrees with Chen the socioeconomic background of the families whose children go there is affecting how the province is dealing with the issue.

"The children are not getting their time outside that they need, which means they’re more restless in class. Generally, after lunchtime they have 15, 20, 25 minutes to go out and play, but they have to do that inside," said Roller, who also serves on the school’s parent council.

"I believe that because we have a lower income area that we’re not being noticed as much."

Since the fall of 2018, the school has been erecting fencing around the field in the summer, barring access.

Come winter when the ground freezes, the fencing comes down and children are able to play on the field again.

But Roller said by the time the fence is taken down it’s often too cold for the children to consistently go out and play. She added the students should have the same access to a grass field as those at any other school.

Chen says she’s hopeful the issue can be solved by September, but the time to act is now. She said two years to solve the problem — when the province has been aware of it for decades — is more than enough time.

"I represent Weston and also Centennial west which is low-income areas, working class neighbourhoods. Weston area especially has a high percentage of Indigenous and newcomer families," Chen said.

"That makes me ask if this issue happens at another school in a more affluent community would it be taking this long to solve the problem? I do think its class discrimination here, it’s one of the factors."

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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Updated on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 11:51 PM CST: Adds related items

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