A torrent of verbal chaos exploded in the first floor auditorium at Oakwood Collegiate Institute Tuesday night as students, parents and alumni clashed with disagreements on a proposal to establish an Africentric Alternative School within the high school.
Toronto District School Board members listened to comments that ranged from composed to volatile, and attempted to address the concerns and questions.
The issue of segregation brought out serious concerns from those opposing the proposal for a black-focused program at the high school.
“This school is a model school for diversity in Toronto. This would only bring our kids apart,” said David Battiston, co-chair of the Oakwood’s Parent Council. “Not everyone wants to be separate. I’m Italian and I know there’s a huge Italian population here, but we don’t want our own school. We want to blend in.”
Several parents attended to the meeting to show their support for Africentric schooling.
“I want my children to have a better understanding of their ethnic identity and history. This school can help do that,” said Anthony Simpson, a father of two young girls.
Simpson had hoped his daughters would attend the elementary Africentric Alternative School at Sheppard Public School, but the location wasn’t convenient from where they live.
“I don’t understand what they’re really against,” Simpson said. “Do they have a problem with us regaining our identity? As far as I know, every culture is fighting for their own identity.”
Many Oakwood students questioned the board as to the necessity of inserting another school rather than creating more programs within Oakwood’s general program.
“We have an achievement gap in this school district that is disturbing,” responded Jim Spyropoulos, superintendent of inclusive and alternative schools. “Forty per cent of our black students are dropping out of schools. We have to acknowledge that we’ve been doing things in a specific way for a period of time and if we keep doing the same thing we’re going to keep getting the same results.”
Spyropoulos, along with other school board members, said an Africentric Alternative School is not a way of separating students. Oakwood students would be allowed to take classes within the Africentric program and vice versa.
“This isn’t the ultimate answer for every student in this district,” Spyropoulos said. “This is a way to try to do something innovative, something new, something creative so we can try to change some of the results that haven’t changed for decades.”
The board said the decision will be put on hold.