Parents say Toronto school has become 'unsafe' at public meeting
Several parents of Toronto students voiced their frustrations and concerns on Thursday evening about the unsafe learning environment at their children's school, demanding the Toronto District School Board do more to resolve them.
The public consultation meeting held online was hosted by Toronto District School Board Trustee Liban Hassan, who said he wanted to hear from parents about the issues facing York Memorial Collegiate Institute, located near Keele Street and Rogers Road.
"I think it's very important that I hear from these from the community, especially the parents of this school, because this is a serious issue. And I'm taking this matter very seriously," Hassan said.
The meeting comes as the school grapples with safety issues and a lack of stable staffing. Earlier this month, several teachers and members of the school administration refused to work, citing an unsafe work environment. There have been reports of violence at the school, with one staff member telling CTV News Toronto earlier this week that school bathrooms have been used for alleged drug use, "sex acts," and a so-called "fight club."
Many parents at the meeting echoed the same concerns, sharing what their children have told them about what was happening in the school.
A mother of a Grade 9 student said this year was her daughter's first time back to in-person classes after three years of virtual learning.
"She's scared to death to go to school," she shared. "She's coming home saying, 'Mom, I could have died today. There was a fight…Kids were arrested.' How do I make my child feel safe?"
Another parent shared that her child is afraid to go the bathroom because of the violence that he has seen.
"He's scared that … he will be a victim when just by going to the bathroom. No student deserves to be scared just to go to the bathroom," she said.
Parents also criticized the lack of communication about what the plan is to make the school safe for learning again.
They also pointed out that the lack of teachers has impacted their children's learning experience.
A father of a Grade 12 student said his son hadn't had a teacher or even a substitute teacher for one of his classes for two weeks.
"They're being told to go to the cafeteria and do a sign-in sheet for fake attendance every day," he said.
Another parent of a Grade 12 student talked about moving his son to another school but is worried that he won't be able to get the courses he needs for university.
"He's also being held up because of the disruption of school, which is slowing the whole class down. So they're not progressing at the rate they need to progress," she said.
Many parents repeatedly indicated during the meeting that the merger of York Memorial and George Harvey Collegiate Institute caused these challenges, which the board acknowledged in a letter to parents earlier this week.
Before this year, students of York Memorial had been temporarily at the former Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy after a six-alarm fire destroyed the school building in 2019. Despite parents and students objecting to an amalgamation with George Harvey, the board pushed through with the merger.
As a result, approximately 1,300 students are attending the former George Harvey building, which has been renamed York Memorial, this school year.
"It is so sad that ... the school board has put all these students, teachers and parents in this position. And it's appalling to me," one parent said at the meeting.
Another parent noted that the TDSB has known about these issues since the school year started, yet families have not seen any progress.
"Why are things getting worse when they should be getting better? We should have an explanation why nothing's being done about it and things are just being allowed to happen as they are," he said.
Several school board officials were present at the meeting to answer questions from parents. They shared a letter sent on Monday outlining the latest actions they have taken.
According to the letter, the board has hired a permanent principal and continues to search for two vice-principal positions. The TDSB has also appointed an executive advisor to focus on overseeing "the implementation of a plan to address school issues."
They added that the school is in the process of securing additional teachers to fill in vacant positions. Officials also committed to weekly communication with parents on what is happening at the school.
Many parents inquired about the possibility of moving classes online temporarily as they are scared to send their children to York Memorial.
However, officials said they could not give an answer on the matter at this time, leaving many parents disappointed.
"I would have liked to answer by now since we've known about this going on for the last month," one parent said.
- with files from CTV News Toronto's Allison Hurst
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