Opponents of Toronto Afrocentric School Vent Rage in E-mails

Canadian Press, April 19, 2008

A shower of passionately negative e-mails flooded the inboxes of Toronto school board trustees following the decision to create an Afrocentric school in Canada’s largest city, according to documents obtained under access to information laws.

The response was raw, reflective and filled with rage.

A woman who grew up in racially segregated Alabama and nearly got expelled from college for drinking out of ‘coloured only’ water fountains said she was crestfallen when she learned of the school board’s decision to go ahead with she believes is a racially exclusive school.

“I am grieved to see Toronto try to turn back the clock to those ignominious times of separation,” wrote Ellen Nichols, who is white and now lives in Toronto.

She was one of 60 people who wrote the school board in January and February of this year. Only five of the e-mails were in favour of the board’s decision. The e-mails were obtained after a request made under Toronto’s access to information law.

The Toronto District School Board voted in favour of the Afrocentric initiative in January. Plans call for a school that will begin with elementary education and run right through high school. Classes will be underway beginning September 2009. The board will be meeting next month to hear recommendations for the location of the school as well as begin the process of hiring teachers and support staff.

Proponents of the program claim it will help combat the 40 per cent dropout rate among Toronto’s black teens by introducing curriculum and staff that better represent this demographic.

The idea for the school was first suggested in 1995 and an impassioned debate has raged around the issue ever since.

E-mails were sent by individuals of all races and included an eclectic mix of professionals, teachers, students and some unexpected characters.

“I certainly have lots of experience on being black in a very homogeneously white school system (Ottawa in the 1970s and early 80s),” wrote Sandra Odendahl, senior director of environmental risk management at CIBC.

“I’d prefer to see my tax dollars devoted to community support, rather than a regressive, racist, segregated educational experiment that needs to have a stake driven through it-quickly.”

Dick Field served in the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Artillery in Europe. He said the idea of a Eurocentric curriculum working against black youth is absurd.

“It is this very ‘Eurocentric’ history and culture, so maligned by these racial advocates that has allowed all our freedoms to flourish,” Field said.

Another author asked, “What’s next, girl focused schools where girls can learn proper girl things like home-ec and nursing?”

E-mails came from all over Canada and included one from Chicago, Ill.

There are more than 100 black-focused or Afrocentric schools in the United States. Studies show black students, especially young males, benefit immensely from such programs.

Gila Gladstone-Martow, an optometrist and advocate for the school, said other segments of Ontario society had their own schools.

“As you are aware, Ontario fully funds: French, French immersion, Roman Catholic, arts-based, sports-based, native schools as well as a gay/lesbian high school,” she wrote.

But she was among a minority of correspondents.

Alvin Stuffels expressed outrage in an initial missive and then tempered his criticism a month later.

“This decision is racist—if a white person suggests an all white school, that person would be called a racist and a Nazi,” he wrote on Jan. 17. “Our society is becoming more and more prejudice against white males, and nobody is questioning it.”

He apologized for his rhetoric in a subsequent e-mail.

“I’m sorry if I vented some of my frustration on you in an earlier e-mail, but I was angry and not thinking straight.”

Stuffels added although he is still against the Afrocentric school, he thinks more can be done within Toronto schools to embrace black youth.

David Tomczak, senior manager of the Toronto District School Board, said the trustees still receive many e-mails on the subject.

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