Black-Focused Schools

Black-Focused School to open in Toronto

Right away, this is probably one of the most controversial topics that has hit the Canadian school system in decades.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this situation (and/or don’t feel like clicking the links above) here’s a quick summary.

The Toronto District School Board voted 11-9 to allow the creation of a “Black-Focused” alternative school somewhere in Toronto. That means, sometime in September 2009, a school in Toronto will open up with a black-focused curriculum, black instructors, and will be aimed primarily at Canadians of Caribbean descent, who apparently have almost twice the dropout rate of Canadians of European descent (40% vs. 23%).

It’s pretty divisive, even amongst the black community. I know there are lots of problems with grouping an ethnic group together in that way, but bear with me. Ostensibly, this program was meant to prevent the kind of violence that’s been building up in Canadian (specifically Torontonian) schools. According to supporters of the proposal, racial tension between students has led to all kinds of trouble. The idea is that a black-focused school would empower these students and put them on a positive path.

This really polarized the community, too. The mother of a recent victim of this exact type of violence has spoken out against the idea, claiming that

“Black school is segregation,” Ms. Small said. “It’s not right.”

Yet, the woman who originally proposed this idea to the school board took the exact opposite view

“It’s not about segregation, it’s about self-determination,” said Ms. Wilson, who first proposed the idea to the school board.

Obviously this isn’t a situation where someone is clearly right and clearly wrong. I think it’s safe to say that no one would argue that this proposal came from the best of intentions. The community is concerned about what they see as the failure of the school system, and the danger these at-risk teens face. But yet, there is serious opposition to the proposal, which may yet doom it.

The school board will find it difficult to get the project off the ground without provincial help, said trustee Josh Matlow, who opposed the plan.

The board, which is projecting a $41-million deficit, simply doesn’t have the cash to support the plan, despite assurances from chairman John Campbell that officials will “find” the money in its already stretched budget, he said.

Source

The Ontario provincial government has weighed in on the matter and has flat out stated that they will not fund this school. This could have a pretty profound impact, because the TDSB is pretty underfunded as it is. What’s interesting is that some of the justification for this decision comes from the last Ontario election where the public lashed out at the idea of funding private religious schools from the public purse. This gets cited as one of the main reasons the Conservatives lost the last election.

If this goes ahead, I sincerely hope that it is successful. Clearly something does need to change, because the current system seems to be failing. But the question is, is this the best course of action? What happens if other ethnic groups or identity groups want to set up their own alternative schools and ask for funding? Does this make things better, or does it just divert money away from the rest of the public schools?

One thing is for sure. It’s extremely important to find a way to engage at risk students of all races. If this is the best way to do it, then I’m all for it. The good thing is that the school board seems to have thought ahead a little bit. It will be a three year trial program, and they’re taking the time to gauge community interest to find out what grade levels to focus on. If they do go ahead with this, it’s vital that they plan every step carefully.

Either way, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other places watching this situation carefully.

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