On Campus

Toronto school board approves black-focused school

Critics concerned about 'segregation'

UPDATE: McGuinty not happy

Toronto District School voted Tuesday night to approve the creation of a controversial black focused public school in 2008. The school, along with three other  recommendations, is aimed at tackling the high dropout rate among black youth in Toronto which runs as high as 40 percent. The school will focus on black culture and history and will be open to students of all ethnic backgrounds.

The vote, which passed with the narrow margin of 11-9, came after school board trustees heard from members of the community, including the mother of a 15-year-old boy fatally shot at a Toronto school last May.

Loreen Small, mother of Jordan Manners, told the trustees she opposed the plan, calling a black school “segregation.” Small said students of all races should be taught together and that the emphasis should be on helping teachers engage the students.

“This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she said.

However, many parents were elated at the board’s decision. “Seeing themselves [black students] in the curriculum, in their instructors is what’s needed,” said one parent.

The project also includes a three-year pilot that would integrate black history and culture into the lessons and teaching environment of existing Toronto schools; the establishment of a staff development, research and innovation centre in collaboration with post-secondary institutions to assess best practices for improving the success of marginalized and vulnerable students; and developing an action plan for addressing underachievement for all marginalized and vulnerable students. The project is expected to cost $820, 000.

Tuesday’s vote followed a rowdy meeting last November which was shut down after supporters of black-focused schools realized the issue wasn’t on the agenda. In an effort to keep the meeting orderly, community members who spoke Tuesday had to sign up as delegates beforehand. There was “some extra security in place,” board representative Kelly Baker said. Last year, in dozens of Grade 6, 7, and 8 classes, the board tested out black-focused lessons in courses like social studies, math, history and music.

The new classes will be fine tuned following community feedback. “It may be different from what they pilot-tested last year,” Baker said.

Ontario education minister Kathleen Wynne told the Globe and Mail that while she approves the expansion of current curriculum, she is concerned that the creation of a black focused public school will encourage other minority groups to push for similar accommodations.

“My preference is that we have all our kids learning together,” she said.

With a report from Canadian Press