Students walked out of a Toronto high school they say has become the site of “constant chaos” in which students detail deplorable conditions, teachers say it’s violent and parents are demanding action from the school board.
At a walkout staged outside of The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) office on Friday, York Memorial Collegiate Institute students described a constant police presence, bathrooms without toilet paper or sanitary products, and classrooms that are construction zones.
York Memorial Collegiate Institute and George Harvey Collegiate Institute amalgamated in September, cramming 1,300 students into one building near Keele Street and Rogers Road. The TDSB said the merger “hasn’t been without its challenges.”
“When you walk into school, it feels like a prison,” a Grade 12 student said on Friday afternoon.
“I have never seen anything like this happen in my whole entire high school experience. As a student, I’m very angry.”
Students gathered to demand a “safe and stable” learning environment, which they described as void of a police presence and racial violence, a school brimming over capacity and staff not showing up to class. On Thursday night, parents attended a TDSB meeting to address these ongoing issues.
"She's scared to death to go to school, "the mother of a Grade 9 student said at the consultation. "She's coming home saying, 'Mom, I could have died today."'
Members of the school's administration, including the current principal, did not show up for work last month, citing an unsafe work environment.
At the time, staff members told CTV News Toronto that bathrooms had become “fight clubs” and alleged sites for drug use. A lockdown took place on Nov. 15 following reports of a person with a gun.
“Has anyone asked why students are fighting and why students are angry? Our anger has led to violence because no one is listening,” an honour roll student said at the Friday rally.
“I want to make it clear it is not all students that are causing the issues and it's not all teachers that are causing the issues. However, the tension between teachers and students is the main reason why there's problems happening in our school.”
After the protest, a letter was sent to parents and guardians providing updates on the actions being taken by the TDSB. They include the announcement of new permanent principal and vice principals, continued work to hire permanent teachers and the addition of supervision and counselling supports.
In addition, the board said the school leadership team will ensure there is a clear process that students, families and staff are aware of to report incidents of racism.
“While there is still much work to do, we are starting to make much needed progress at the school and it is my hope that that will become much more evident in the days ahead,” wrote executive superintendent Dr. Uton Robinson.
Also in the letter, the board said it is exploring virtual learning opportunities for students who “would be better served and would still earn credits to assure successful completion of their year.”
DOUG FORD RESPONSE
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked if he was planning to intervene in the violence taking place at York Memorial while at a news conference on Friday.
“We always leave that up to the school boards. We don't have jurisdiction to dictate to the school boards what needs to be done when there's any violent products,” he said.
“If there are any violent crimes, that goes back to the federal government to make sure that when someone gets charged, that there's mandatory sentences.”
Ford said it’s the federal government's responsibility to “toughen up” the criminal code to keep communities safer.
For the Mayor’s part, John Tory floated the idea of an official police presence in the school as a possible solution.
“I supported the old way of having the police in schools, but I realize that was controversial and the school board took it out. But is there a different way in which we can have police help to keep schools safe?” he said at an unrelated news conference Friday.
Tory said he plans to reconvene with representatives of the TDSB and Toronto police following a meeting earlier this week to further address the issue.