The COVID-19 case count continues to climb at a north Welland school that has the support of Niagara’s top public health official to remain open.
On Sunday, the acting principal of Quaker Road Public School, Kristin Theriault, notified parents in a letter that five more individuals had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the school’s total to 11 active cases.
While the letter to the parents officially informed them of the confirmed cases, the school put a sign on its main door on Friday warning visitors.
The weekend jump in positive tests gives the school at the corner of First Avennue the dubious distinction of having had the most Niagara school cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Previously, Niagara Catholic District School Board’s Saint Michael Catholic High School in Niagara Falls and St. Martin Catholic Elementary School in Smithville held the record with 10 cases.
Despite Quaker Road’s case count, Niagara Region Public Health supports the school staying open.
“If public health believed a school could not operate safely, we would not allow them to continue operating,” said acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji.
He said staff have been “aggressive” in isolating individuals who are at greatest risk of contracting the infection to stop its spread, “but we’re not going to start isolating people who are at low risk.”
At Quaker Road, he said, “it does seem there are just a couple of clusters of infection where we do see the patterns of spread, and we can identify who is at greatest risk of becoming sick.
“So we don’t actually need to shut down.”
That’s important, he added, “because we don’t want to deprive children of having the chance at having in-person education if there is no need to.”
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Niagara president Brian Barker disagreed.
“I am stunned by Niagara public health’s decision to leave Quaker Road Public School open despite the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re left scratching our heads, wondering about their rationale. There have been outbreaks in schools across the province that have closed with fewer cases than Quaker Road,” he said.
Barker believes the case count would be higher at the school if asymptomatic testing “was more accessible and encouraged more broadly.”
However, he doesn’t fault the school board.
“I think the DSBN is doing the best they can based on the minimal funding school boards have received from the (Premier Doug) Ford government.”
In a media release, District School Board of Niagara said the increase in cases resulted in the closure of nine classrooms at Quaker Road Public School.
As a result of one of the confirmed cases, Niagara Student Transportation Services issued a letter to parents as well, it said.
In a statement to the Niagara Falls Review, the executive director of NSTS, Lori Ziraldo, said bus driver was required to self-isolate at home.
“The school bus is an extension of the school and we work with the school board when a positive case is identified,” said Ziraldo. “The bus driver is notified as part of the school community when there is a positive case on the bus and is contacted by public health only if they are required to self-isolate.”
Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: [email protected]