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Federation of Canadian Secondary Students | Fédération des élèves du secondaire au Canada (FCSS-FESC)
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 21, 2017
Student Concerns Over TDSB Task Force Decision
Advocating for Specialized Programmes and Diverse Learning Environments
TORONTO, ON, OCTOBER 21, 2017 - Specialized programmes and optional attendance schools which provide students with opportunities for enriched learning are at risk of being phased out from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) following recommendations from the Board’s Equity Task Force.
Although students are assigned “home schools” based on their residential address within defined catchment areas, the optional attendance system allows students to apply for enrollment in programmes hosted at other schools, specializing in various areas, including math, science, technology, and the arts. As such, students from across the region are able to access resources and learning experiences unavailable in their home schools that enrich the educational experience for all students and allow them to be immersed in their chosen field of interest.
A recent draft of a report from the TDSB’s Ensuring Equity Task Force (EETF) expressing issues in the equity of specialized programmes and schools has come to the attention of the FCSS-FESC. In the report, the EETF states concerns of increased competition and disparities between schools due to specialized schools and programmes, and inequitable access to such programmes, especially for students in marginalized communities. The EETF recommended that resources and support be “realigned so that all schools, at least every cluster of local schools, can offer a variety of specialty programmes”, and stated that once “ALL students have equitable access to enriched programming, optional attendance and specialized schools should be phased out”.
The proposal itself is vague and fails to present specific plans for implementation or objective research on the potential impacts these changes may have. A study by Kyburg, Hertberg-Davis, and Callahan (2007) found that “racial, ethnic, linguistic, and economic diversity within urban areas necessitates the creation of scholastic environments that are responsive to the varying academic and social needs of the student population” with specific emphasis on the value of both the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programmes in responding to diverse student needs.
If specialized programmes and schools are to be eliminated, how will individual or local groups of schools be able to provide students access to the multitude of enrichment courses, materials, and opportunities currently offered at 54 unique specialized programmes and schools across Toronto, which each have various approaches, from International Baccalaureate to Advanced Placement, and cover a wide range of subjects, including design and technology, athletics, the arts, leadership, and STEM? Specialty programmes at optional attendance schools are advantageous in their ability to focus on specific aspects of education and cater to students’ interests, aspirations, or needs which may be more in-depth or niche, and cannot be offered at all schools in a practical manner.
The FCSS-FESC recognizes the presence of disparities and inequities caused by barriers to enriched education, but strongly believes that specialized programmes have great potential to be driving forces spearheading improved education for all, not inhibiting it.
Success in specialized programmes indicates a thriving educational environment which should be continued and expanded into other schools, in close collaboration with existing “host schools”. This would allow more students to access the benefits these programmes offer, while ensuring that the unique visions and intents of these programmes are preserved and can serve their students to their full potential.
Efforts should instead be made to eliminate barriers which prevent marginalized students from applying to and accessing existing specialized programmes, whether they be financial, social, academic or otherwise, through subsidies, community resources, or other forms of support.
The FCSS-FESC urges the TDSB’s Ensuring Equity Task Force to investigate alternative solutions to educational inequity which support the improvement of underprivileged students and schools without limiting opportunities for others to learn and perform to the best of their abilities.
The Federation of Canadian Secondary Students | Fédération des élèves du secondaire au Canada (FCSS-FESC) aims to deliver the student voice to education stakeholders, when it is often forgotten in daily discourse. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit organisation that is led completely by youth. Together, we are the largest student alliance of its kind in Canada. Our programmes supplement public education with networking events, leadership opportunities, peer mentorship, and conferences. Our events are designed to guide Canadian youth of today and ensure their successful tomorrow, while working to improve education today.
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