Proponents of Africentric school hail a ‘bittersweet’ victory

After an emotional meeting on Tuesday night, Toronto District School Board trustees voted in favour for Canada’s first Africentric school.

The 11-9 vote met with loud applause and cheering from supporters. The vote came after several community members expressed their views on the matter.

The major concern for those against the idea was that it would cause segregation, whereas those for the idea think it will lower the dropout rates of marginalized black students.

Vickie McPhee of the Rights Watch Network, spoke passionately and pleaded with trustees to approve the proposal. McPhee has chosen to home school her children until they can attend an Africentric school.

“Black-focused schools are not a must, they are a right,” McPhee said.

Loreen Small, the mother of Jordan Manners, the 15-year-old killed last May at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, spoke out strongly against the proposal.

“Black schools is segregation. I don’t promote it,” Small said. “It ain’t right.”

But Winston LaRose, executive director of the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization disagreed. He addressed the trustees.

“You have a great burden. We hold you responsible,” LaRose said. “We are not talking about segregation — that is a distraction.”

Trustee Shaun Chen also agreed.

“Don’t buy into the politics of fear,” Chen said. “We can’t control what happens in the home, but we can control what happens at the schools.”

Parents and activists, Donna Harrow and Angela Wilson, spearheaded the original proposal for Africentric schools. They want a kindergarten to grade-12 model adopted.

Their proposal also specified an opening of the school in September 2008, not 2009 as the board has proposed and voted on.

Open the school by September, 2008

“We will not leave this alone. To get the trustees to say yes to something is only the beginning,” Harrow said. “(They must) understand that we will continue to keep them committed to this and open a school in September 2008.”

Wilson said the school was long overdue. “They have had 42 years experience of opening about 40 alternative schools,” Wilson said.

The initial start-up cost of the school will cost $350,000. The four proposed recommendations would total $820,000.

Trustee Josh Matlow expressed his concern for going ahead with the proposal without first consulting the budget committee.

“We have no knowledge of where this money is coming from. It would be irrational and irresponsible to consider this unless we know the money is available.”

Student trustees, Gerald Mak and Aurelija Jusyte both voted against the proposal.

Mak, who has spoken with numerous students about their take on Africentric schools, talked about the number of students that have considered the idea a good one.

“Only two, and I repeat, two of the students were in favour of Africentric schools.”

That says a lot. The hope is that the 40 per cent drop-out rate of black-students of Caribbean descent will decrease with the addition of an Africentric school.

Harrow knows that more work is inevitable, but both her and Angela are overjoyed by the result.

“It is absolutely bittersweet,” Harrow said. It’s wonderful that most of the trustees in the Toronto District School Board have voted on something that is so controversial.”