PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. -- A private school in Port Coquitlam, B.C., was closed Thursday after a potential exposure to a faster-spreading variant of COVID-19.

Archbishop Carney Regional Secondary School notified parents and students by email Wednesday night that it would be temporarily cancelling in-person classes.

“This afternoon we were notified by Fraser Health that a significant number of students and staff have been directed to isolate,” wrote Len De Julius, the school’s principal.

He went on to write that due to severe staffing constraints, it will be difficult to safely and effectively manage in-class instruction,

“After thoughtful and considered discussions with administration and the Superintendent’s Office, we have made the decision to suspend all in-class instruction effective March 4, 2021,” he wrote.

Online classes are set to begin Friday and will continue until at least March 29, according to Fraser Health.

The health authority confirmed on Tuesday that there was a case of a variant tied to the school and initially said only those who had been identified as close contacts needed to be tested and had been contacted.

At the time, it said the school would remain open. But now the staffing issues have prompted the school to take a different route.

There have been several schools that have been forced to close for a few weeks because of there weren’t enough teachers, according to the BC Teachers’ Federation.

Teri Mooring, president of the BCTF, said the variants of concern could be a game-changer and force even more schools to close temporarily.

“With the variant, given that it's more contagious, we will see more schools having to basically declare a functional outbreak, just because there isn't enough staff involved,” Mooring said. “The provincial government and the provincial health office could really, I think, put a lot of people at ease, if they just released the data, so we could clearly see what's happening.”

She said information on the number of variant cases detected in schools, how it is spreading, and the number of infected staff and students should be public.

“The public has a right to know about the safety of schools,” she said.

On Thursday, the provincial health officer said transmission of cases involving variants remains low.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said there are 23 schools with variant exposures and out of those, only one or two cases of transmission.

“We're not seeing widely taking off transmission from these variant cases but it is anxiety-provoking, it's stressful for the public health teams, for the school communities,” she said.

The Ministry of Education echoes that sentiment that there is limited spread within schools.

“Schools mirror what’s happening in our communities and while that means we’re seeing school exposures; we’re still seeing low rates of transmissions inside our schools,” the ministry said in a statement. “This shows us schools are safe for students and staff when health and safety guidelines are consistently followed.”

At least six entire classes in the region are currently self-isolating at home.

The last reported exposure at Archbishop was on March 1