Quaker Road Public School in Welland is now linked to 15 cases of COVID-19, but it continues to have the support of Niagara Region Public Health and District School Board of Niagara to remain open.
DSBN said in a statement public health has reassessed the situation at the school at Quaker Road and and First Avenue and continues to recommend it remain open for classes not affected by positive cases.
The rationale for the decision, the school board said, is that the cases were “isolated quickly, and students who have continued to attend school remained in their class cohorts.”
Board chair Sue Barnett, a Welland trustee, also cited concerns for students’ mental well-being as a reason to keep Quaker Road open.
“Students who are loved at home go to school to learn,” she said. “Students who aren’t loved at home go to school to be loved.
“Part of the consideration given is our student’s mental health who weren’t affected. Our students need access to their peers. They also need some normalcy in their life,” said Barnett.
“It’s a mental health issue to keep the school open if we can, but we have to do it safely,” she added.
DSBN communications specialist Carolyn LoConte said students who are required to self-isolate due to exposure continue to learn from home.
“Since returning to school in September, we have met weekly with Niagara public health to ensure we have implemented all of the health and safety protocols that will keep students and staff safe in our schools,” LoConte said. “When a school is reported to have an active case, we add additional safety precautions.”
Those precautions include heightened cleaning and disinfecting.
Public heath will also do an assessment of the school to see if there are ways protocols can be strengthened, she said Wednesday.
“At the moment, we are waiting to hear back from Niagara public health to see if they advise asymptomatic testing of Quaker Road Public School.”
The latest four individuals to test positive were already in self-isolation when they received their results. As a result of their tests, public health did recommend three additional classrooms close.
While school boards won’t confirm if an infected individual is a staff or a student, Niagara acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji confirmed a staff person could have been responsible for the spread of the virus in two schools.
“There is one staff person linked to two different schools now who, unfortunately, is infected with COVID-19,” said Hirji. “That person may have been infected at one school and then may have been the source of infection at a second school.”
The other school was not identified.
Hirji also confirmed that the closing of Quaker Road is evaluated daily.
“The decision to close isn’t based on the numbers; it is based on the risk,” he said.
For Jenn Backshall, a parent of two Quaker Road students, the risk is there.
“The school board and public health need to do better,” she said. “I find myself in the position where I have to question the safety of my children; because of that, my children won’t be attending school until all cases are resolved.
“I don’t understand why they are refusing to shut down the school,” she added.
In the past week, DSBN has confirmed 26 new COVID-19vcases resulting in 24 classroom closures across 10 schools.
— With files from Gord Howard