On Campus

Opponents of Toronto Africentric school vent rage in e-mails

Accusations of segregation continue to dog school board decision

After the decision to create an Africentric school in Toronto, school board trustees received numerous negative e-mails, according to documents obtained under access to information laws.

The e-mails, sent during January and February, ranged from reflective to rage filled accusations of racism.

A woman who grew up in racially segregated Alabama, and nearly got expelled from college for drinking out of “coloured only” water fountains said she was crestfallen when she learned of the school board’s decision to go ahead with what she believes to be a racially exclusive school.

“I am grieved to see Toronto try to turn back the clock to those ignominious times of separation,” wrote Ellen Nichols, who is white and now lives in Toronto.

Nichols was one of 60 people who emailed the school board in January and February regarding the decision to create an Africentric school. Only five of the emails were supportive of the decision.

The Toronto District School Board voted in favour of the Africentric initiative in January. Plans call for a school that will begin with elementary education and run right through high school. Classes will be underway beginning September 2009. The board will be meeting next month to hear recommendations for the location of the school as well as to begin the process of hiring teachers and support staff.

Proponents of the program claim it will help combat the 40 per cent dropout rate among Toronto’s black teens by introducing curriculum, and staff that better represent this demographic. The idea for the school was first suggested in 1995 and an impassioned debate has raged around the issue ever since. E-mails were sent by individuals of all ethnic backgrounds, and included an eclectic mix of professionals, teachers, students and some unexpected characters.

“I certainly have lots of experience on being black in a very homogeneously white school system (Ottawa in the 1970s and early 80s),” wrote Sandra Odendahl, senior director of environmental risk management at CIBC. “I’d prefer to see my tax dollars devoted to community support, rather than a regressive, racist, segregated educational experiment that needs to have a stake driven through it — quickly.”

Dick Field served in the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Artillery in Europe. He said the idea of a “Eurocentric” curriculum working against black youth is absurd. “It is this very ‘Eurocentric’ history and culture, so maligned by these racial advocates that has allowed all our freedoms to flourish,” Field said.

Another author asked, “What’s next, girl focused schools where girls can learn proper girl things like home-ec and nursing?”

E-mails came from all over Canada and included one from Chicago, Ill.

There are more than 100 black-focused or Africentric schools in the United States. Studies show black students, especially young males, benefit immensely from such programs.

Gila Gladstone-Martow, an optometrist and advocate for the school, said other segments of Ontario society had their own schools. “As you are aware, Ontario fully funds: French, French immersion, Roman Catholic, arts-based, sports-based, native schools as well as a gay/lesbian high school,” she wrote.

But she was among a minority of correspondents.

Alvin Stuffels expressed outrage in an initial missive and then tempered his criticism a month later.

“This decision is racist. If a white person suggests an all white school, that person would be called a racist and a Nazi,” he wrote on Jan. 17. “Our society is becoming more and more prejudice against white males, and nobody is questioning it.”

He apologized for his rhetoric in a subsequent e-mail.

“I’m sorry if I vented some of my frustration on you in an earlier e-mail, but I was angry and not thinking straight.” Stuffels added although he is still against the Africentric school, he thinks more can be done within Toronto schools to embrace black youth. David Tomczak, senior manager of the Toronto District School Board, said the trustees still receive many e-mails on the subject.

With a report from CP 

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