04/19/2010: By JUSTIN MILLERSON
Due to declining enrollment, The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) confirmed closure of West Toronto C.I. for high school students in a public board meeting on April 14, as many Tibetan protesters stood with passion in an effort to keep the school open for adult education.
Located at 330 Lansdowne Ave., just north of College Street, West Toronto currently offers adult day programs, but many Tibetans were worried that once the school closes on August, 31 the building could be sold by the TDSB to reduce the board’s capital deficit.
“We are here to prevent the closure of the school. Many people [in Toronto] can’t speak English well or even read or write, so adult education would really help people find jobs in the area,” said Tashi Dolma, a 32-year-old protestor.
Nearly 6,000 Tibetans live in West Toronto and some have never been to school. According to Maria Rodrigues, a school board trustee for West Toronto, nearly 1,000 adults are interested in receiving education and there is no question that West Toronto is a place of interest.
Although the school is slated for closure, what actually will happen to the property is still uncertain. The school board asked Chris Spence, director of education, for a feasibility study due in June, which would examine the building’s viability for adult education as well as a cost examination on its current equity.
The cost to run West Toronto is becoming more expensive as the number of students decline. The TDSB is already facing $2.8 billion in deferred maintenance, However, Susan Nielsen, executive director of the TASA, said it is important to note the social cost.
“[The school board] will talk about money, but they don’t talk about the social cost and when you leave people out of education, it is the breading-grounds for poverty, ill health and many of our social problems.”
West Toronto, founded in 1972, was built to hold 1,200 students, however the school currently has fewer than 100 as they have experienced a 13 per cent decline since 2001.
Remaining students will have a choice to pick which school they would like to attend within the TDSB in the fall.
The school’s principal Cynthia Abernethy is relieved a decision has finally been made after a grueling 13 months of anticipating, but she said her main concern is the future of her staff and students.
“I see myself as the head cheerleader,” said Abernethy. “I see myself as the person responsible for assuring that through this process, that the voices of my students, their families and my staff have been heard and that I have been an advocate for them.”
A final decision about West Toronto’s future will be made by the TDSB in June after feasibility has been presented.
Article by Justin Millerson
Video Reporting by Gurpreet Ghag
Camerawork and Editing by Matthew Lopes