KITCHENER, Ont. - Ontario "won't hesitate" to prevent the segregation of kids according to race by quashing a proliferation of black-focused schools across the province if other school boards start following Toronto's lead, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday.

One day after McGuinty said he wouldn't overrule the Toronto District School Board's decision to establish one of Canada's first black-focused schools, McGuinty said he's not ruling out quashing the idea if Ontario boards start following suit.

"We'll be watching this very closely," McGuinty said before attending a Liberal caucus retreat in Kitchener, Ont.

"If I get a proposal next week from Ottawa and the week after that from Windsor and the week after that from Thunder Bay - if something takes hold here that runs clearly contrary to our vision of publicly funded education in the province of Ontario - then we will not hesitate to act."

School board officials may have the best interests of black students at heart, but their decision clashes with the need to build a multicultural society, McGuinty said. One of the most important ways to foster multiculturalism is through diverse schools where kids of all races learn and grow up together, he said.

McGuinty did say, however, that he's less concerned with the idea of a black-focused school that would be housed within an existing public school.

At least then, McGuinty said, students of all races can mingle together within the school.

"Then they're walking in a hall with black kids and white kids and Asian kids - we've got the whole mix of the Ontario population," McGuinty said. "That's more reflective of society as a whole."

Critics, however, called McGuinty a "coward" for not overruling the Toronto board's decision when the government is clearly opposed to the idea.

Conservative Joyce Savoline said the Liberals are hypocrites for speaking out so strongly against the "segregation" of kids during the recent debate over the funding of religious schools, and then refusing to act now to stop the creation of a black-focused school.

"Why is it okay in Toronto but not okay in Windsor or in Ottawa or other places?" she said. "If there is a reason to step in in other places, there is a reason to step in now. They need to take a stronger stand."

The governing Liberals are setting a dangerous precedent by allowing separation within the school system, she said. Even if the black-focused school is housed within a larger school, Savoline said students will still look at each other differently.

"Why are we letting a bad decision move forward?" she said.

But Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said she doubts the province will have to make good on McGuinty's threat. Just because Toronto trustees have chosen this route doesn't mean other Ontario school boards will do the same, she said.

"I don't think that this is a conversation that has gone on for 20 years in other parts of the province," Wynne said.

"In a city like Toronto, where there is a density of urban need and particular populations that have struggled for years . . . there might a solution that's necessary there or that's contemplated there that isn't contemplated somewhere else."

NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the Liberals are missing the point. People are seeking a black-focused school because they feel the mainstream school system is failing their children, he said.

"The reality is that black kids coming from low and modest-income families . . . simply are not being well served by the school system," Hampton said. "The McGuinty government would be wise to do something about the inadequate funding and skip the rhetoric."

Toronto trustees narrowly approved a black-focused school Tuesday night after board statistics suggested 40 per cent of black male students in the city aren't finishing high school.

The alternative school would be open to all ethnic groups but is supposed to make class content more relevant for black students by tailoring the curriculum and teaching environment around black history and culture.

McGuinty has said the province won't provide special funding for the school. Board officials, who are projecting a $41-million deficit, have said they will find the money for the school in their $2.3-billion budget.

The proposed school has been billed as a Canadian first, although an elementary school that teaches the provincial curriculum in the predominantly black community of North Preston, N.S., operates with an Afrocentric philosophy.