Speaking out about Afro-centric schools

Study Hall

Bello says a black school only for black students was
never the intention. Students of different backgrounds would
be allowed to go.

A local school board trustee says she is not convinced an Afro-centric school for this area is the solution to ongoing problems with black youth in the neighbourhood.

Nadia Bello says she has “a lot of sympathy and understanding of where people are coming from” on the issue, but if there were more support for these students in regular schools, the discussion would not be necessary.

“If black students are feeling alienated and their families are feeling alienated, what is that about?” asked Bello, trustee for Scarborough East.

The issue of Afro-centric schools has been a hot topic for the Toronto board. Parents and community members will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the proposal on Jan. 29 where the committee involved is opening a special meeting to the public.

“I think there’s a broader social context,” Bello says. “If students felt supported in their classrooms and their regular schools, we wouldn’t need to be having this discussion.”

Bello emphasized the need for people to understand the issues, rather than just react to them.

The TDSB has proposed four different ideas in response to concerned parents. One of the recommendations was the proposal for black-focused schools, while another suggested a process of a series of integrated schools.

Some students have voiced mixed opinions.

“I just think it’s not fair to every other school where we’re all multicultural and that’s what Canada’s known for,” said James Suttar, a Grade 11 student from Woburn Collegiate.

“As soon as we start dividing up in that way, then we’re not going to be known for that anymore. In that aspect, I don’t agree.”

Unlike Suttar, Steven Bowen and his friends expressed some indifference on the topic at hand.

“It’s not really an issue for me,” said Bowen, a Grade 12 student from West Hill Collegiate. “If my parents want me to go, then I’ll go. But black students might be segregated.”

A black school taught by black teachers only for black students was never the intention, according to Bello. This process did not come from the school board; it was parent-driven.

The last school board meeting in December had to be shut down because of outbursts from frustrated parents. They wanted the issue of Afro-centric schools to be addressed.

The next regular school board meeting will be held on Jan. 30, a day after the special meeting. The TDSB will have a full plate on their agenda, including the school safety report and Bill 212.

“Could what happened in December happen again? I don’t think the board will let it happen again,” Bello said.

“Could I see lots of people from the community coming out and wanting to express themselves? Absolutely, and that’s their right. That’s democracy.”

Bello believes there are some straightforward questions that get to the heart of the issue: “Is it about teachers? Is it about support? Where does it come from? What should we be doing in the system to make schools more welcoming for black students and for any students?”