Future of youth and education: A Statement on the May 18 Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting
May 30, 2017
On May 18th, the Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance – Ontario (FCYA-ON) presented at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) public board meeting to expose the systemic racism underlying the continued neglect faced by St. Margaret Catholic School students. FCYA-ON was met with unacceptable and adverse behaviour from the board as we asserted the board’s lack of accountability in addressing the overcrowding and resource deprived state of the St. Margaret building. It became clear why the needs of the students, parents, and the Bathurst and Wilson community and their effort to push for a better learning environment had been delayed for more than 15 years.
St. Margaret Catholic School is located in Bathurst and Wilson – an area dubbed as Little Manila. The school currently has over 600 students enrolled in a building with a maximum capacity meant for 300 students. Over 90% of the students are Filipino children, many coming from families who have recently arrived in Canada. In the past few decades, overcrowding of many schools on Bathurst St. between Steeles Ave. and Lawrence West have become a common issue. The temporary solution at St. Margaret has been to split students between the main building at Carmichael Ave., and a former TDSB building west of Bathurst shared with students of Dante Alighieri. Since 2015, the St. Margaret parent council, PEACE (Parent Engagement And Community Empowerment), having had enough of the delays to school repairs and the band-aid solutions of overcrowding, led the campaign to “Save St. Margaret” (#smsSOS). As a Filipino Canadian youth organization, we support the efforts of the PEACE committee to bring the issues of St. Margaret School to the fore and demand an end to the delays of providing better educational environment for their children and the youth of the community at large.
FCYA-ON was invited by PEACE to present before the board our first hand account of the dire conditions in St. Margaret School. In support of their initiative, we prepared a presentation that would also provide the objective realities of the community in “Little Manila”, urging the Board and Ministry to take the matter of St. Margaret Catholic School seriously. We also made clear that the blame placed on the parents and community members by school officials for supposedly being “unengaged” in the issue is unjustifiable, and instead exemplifies the larger issue of systemic racism faced as a marginalized and racialized community within the education system. We stressed that students’ needs must be the priority.
After presenting, the board of trustees questioned our place in the public delegation, demanding the names of the persons who invited us to the public board meeting. Their behaviour was in direct violation of their own policies that reserve the right for speakers to be treated fairly and respectfully. More distressingly, no moderator, nor trustee present in the meeting was able to intervene. The board was undeniably complicit to the disrespect that was perpetrated during delegation.
The FCYA-ON condemns this behaviour of the TCDSB and we refuse to stand idle as the needs of the Filipino community continue to be sidelined. While the board and other school officials consistently ask for more engagement from the community to speak out, when students, parents, and community members do speak out they are met with disrespect–our experiences interrogated and silenced. This treatment only perpetuates the systemic racism that Filipino Canadians experience in the larger Canadian society as a racialized, working class community.
Across Ontario, public school boards are approving to close under-enrolled and aging schools but sell these lands to private developers who can afford the ridiculous prices placed on public land. With the growing trend of schools closing down and being sold to private investment, a dilemma is created when funding and resource is needed to address the overcrowding and lack of public school spaces for many other communities across Toronto. Again, we ask where in all this are the needs of the youth and future generations being put first?
The issues that St. Margaret School has been facing is but one example of the many schools affected by the current state of education in Canada. The TCDSB and the Ministry of Education must take the demands from racialized and immigrant communities seriously and prioritize the needs of the students. FCYA-ON fully supports the demands to provide all necessary upgrades to St. Margaret Catholic School and to create a public school in a new site for the growing community in Bathurst and Wilson.
**A full transcript of our statement at the May 18 delegation is provided here.
** The video of the meeting can be viewed from the TCDSB website here (FCYA-ON presentation starts at 1:21:15 and 2:08:12. Parliamentarian comments at 4:47:37).