School in Brokenhead closed after high levels of carbon monoxide discovered

The mother of a young child in the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation (BON) says she is frustrated after 11 people at the community’s school were sent to hospital because of exposure to carbon monoxide, and she’s concerned for her child’s safety, because she does not believe the school has been upfront with parents about what happened, and when the problem first started.

On Friday afternoon, all staff and students at the Sergeant Tommy Prince School in BON, a First Nations community about 75 kilometres north of Winnipeg were evacuated, while a notice put out on social media by school Principal Patsy Bercier around 2:45 p.m. on Friday said the evacuation was due to “air quality” issues.

“School is closing for health & safety purposes with respect to air quality levels/air quality. Buses will be leaving ASAP,” Bercier wrote in a Facebook post on the Sergeant Tommy Prince School Facebook page on Friday.

No further information was released until Sunday, when a post on the BON main Facebook page announced that all classes and activities have been cancelled at the school indefinitely and that the issues are due to high levels of carbon monoxide at the facility.

“Due to poor air quality in the building, from high levels of carbon monoxide, the STP school, Jordans Principal and Headstart will be closed,” the Facebook post read. “A notice will be posted from the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre (MFNERC) when the facilities are safe to return.”

In a joint statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun on Wednesday, both Shared Health and the Interlake- Eastern Regional Health Authority (IERHA) confirmed that several staff and students who were at the school last week were sent to hospital for emergency care.

“Eleven patients visited emergency departments in the Interlake-Eastern and Winnipeg health regions last Friday relating to a carbon monoxide exposure at a school. All were treated and released,” the statement reads.

According to information released by the federal government, symptoms of low-level carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, shortness of breath and impaired motor functions, while high-level carbon monoxide poisoning can result in convulsions, loss of consciousness, coma and death.

Chasity Simard, the mother of an 8-year-old girl who attends the school, said she is now questioning how long the high levels of carbon monoxide have been present because she has been noticing that her daughter has been ill and dealing with various symptoms that could be related to carbon monoxide poisoning since students returned to school after the Christmas break.

She also claims she has heard from more than one EA who works at the school that some staff were aware of the issues before Friday.

“I believe this has been going on longer than people want to admit, and that the staff there was putting kids in harm's way, but what I can’t get my head around is why they wouldn’t just be completely upfront in the first place,” Simard said.

Simard said that she will not send her daughter back to the school even when it does open back up, because she does not trust the information coming from the school’s principal, and no longer believes her daughter is safe at the school.

She says until changes are made, she will homeschool her daughter and said she has heard similar comments from other parents and guardians in the community.

“There are lots of parents who are very concerned, and very upset,” Simard said.

The Winnipeg Sun sent requests for comment to Bercier, as well as BON Chief Gordon Blueksy and MFNERC, but received no responses.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun