Some Oakwood Collegiate students warn that opening a proposed Africentric high school there could rebrand it as a largely “black school” and discourage others from attending, reducing its cultural mix.
“Unfortunately, some people are racist and I know for a fact a friend who’s Asian, whose parents wouldn’t send them to a school that’s unofficially labeled as black,” said Grade 11 student Matteo Ferrero-Wong, who is of Chinese and Italian descent.
Senior Toronto school board staff scrambled to do damage control Monday at Oakwood, where student panic over a proposal to open an Africentric alternative high school in part of the building has sparked a Facebook petition with some 320 names as well as brief rumours of a wildcat student strike.
“I’m proud of our students for raising their voices–they should, it’s their school–but an Africentric school is just one way to address a 40 per cent dropout rate (among black students),” said Jim Spyropoulos, the board’s superintendent of inclusive schools, who visited Oakwood to field questions from concerned students and staff.
Board officials will meet with Oakwood families Tuesday night to discuss the proposal, which will go to the board’s program and school services committee Wednesday for discussion.
Ferrero-Wong’s friend, Fadzai Masvosva, is black and from Zimbabwe.
Masvosva agrees an Africentric alternative school “would make the school less diverse because more of the black students would stay and the white and Asian kids’ parents would send them somewhere else. Some people say if the population is more black, it makes some people feel less safe.”
Trustee Maria Rodrigues said she supports the idea, adding some 40 per cent of Oakwood students are black and about 60 per cent are visible minorities.
“Students of both streams would be able to take each other’s classes, so it would be good for everyone,” she said.
An Africentric elementary school opened in 2009 in an unused wing of Sheppard Public School with classes for students from kindergarten to Grade 5.
The school added Grade 6 this year and plans to add Grade 7 next year and Grade 8 the following year.
Staff chose Oakwood for a high school because many students at the Africentric elementary school live in the west end, and also because of Oakwood’s history of supporting Africentric culture, said Ryerson professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi, a board adviser on the issue.
Oakwood’s African-Canadian student club, formed nearly 30 years ago, was one of the first in Canada.
If the board opens an Africentric school in Oakwood, Grade 11 student Matthew Wong said he worries racism might grow.
“Not that students are racist, but some parents could stop sending their kids because they could see it as potentially dangerous, which could reduce the enrolment of the school. The idea of segregation is not something Canadians like; we’re a mosaic of various cultures.”