Controversial plan

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Community representatives say they're `united' on controversial plan
Toronto Star  Feb 08, 2008  Louise Brown   Education Reporter

A dozen groups have thrown their support behind an alternative Africentric school, stressing it would not be segregation, as Premier Dalton McGuinty has charged, but a way to "re-integrate" disengaged kids back into public schooling.

Students, teachers, activists and professors held a news conference yesterday at Queen's Park to support the controversial proposal adopted last week by the Toronto District School Board. They stressed that the school will not be exclusively for black students and teachers, and will enrich, not bypass, the Ontario curriculum.

"We understand the premier has an opinion, but we're excited about this school," said Grace-Edward Galabuzi, assistant professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University. "It's a way of trying to re-integrate those young people who are disengaged back into public education."

Among the groups who hailed the alternative Africentric school yesterday are the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens, the Jamaican-Canadian Association, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, African Canadian Heritage Association, the Canadian Alliance of Black Educators, the Ontario Parents of Black Children, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Black Action Defence League and the Canadian Arab Federation.

"Our community is not strongly divided on this issue – our community is united," Galabuzi added, "although there are some who disagree, but that's not unlike any other community."

McGuinty has said he is disappointed Toronto trustees have chosen to launch an Africentric alternative school as a way to battle a 40 per cent dropout rate among black students.

He says he favours keeping students of all backgrounds together in public schools.

But Galabuzi noted Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code allow programs to be offered to specific groups, including racial groups, if they are meant to help compensate for a disadvantage.

"Equal treatment does not mean same treatment. Sometimes you have to do things differently for some groups to ensure equitable outcomes," said Galabuzi.

Krystle Skeete, 24, who has just graduated from York University in sociology, says she supports the idea because she remembers being inspired by a black teacher who taught her about such African-Canadians as pioneer newspaper publisher Mary Ann Shadd – lessons often not taught in mainstream schools.

"I think we should do everything; have anti-racist curriculum in all schools but also try an Africentric alternative school," said Skeete yesterday at the news conference. "Some schools don't teach black history at all. I know one 17-year-old who doesn't know who Nelson Mandela is. Yet look at the United States, where Africentric schools and black colleges do really well."

Parent Donna Harrow, one of the proponents of the school, said she is frustrated people keep claiming the school would be segregated. "It will be the Ontario curriculum enhanced by Africentric materials and a study of world history," she said yesterday.

Louis March has been running Saturday classes in Africentric and Jamaican enrichment for 39 years in Toronto and says he has watched an awareness of cultural heritage boost the esteem and academic success of thousands of black students.

"When they see themselves in the curriculum, it gives them a fighting chance; they walk tall and talk proud."

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