Education Action: Toronto

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Give Us Back Our Neighbourhood School

by Dudley Paul

Hibo Hagi-nur wants her kids to go back to the school in their neighbourhood. For the past 10 years, she and other parents at 900, 910 and 930 Queen’s Plate Drive have been bundling about 90 children onto school buses every morning for the 4 km trip to Elmbank Junior Middle Academy. Yet their local school is within walking distance.

Children on Queen’s Plate Drive used to attend Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy, but school boundaries for the area changed in 1999, resulting in the move Elmbank.

Students cross 2 major roads, Rexdale Boulevard and Highway 27 to get to school and parents worry about safety. Ms Hagi-nur explained that her 4 year-old daughter was left unattended after getting off the school bus one morning and that her 11–year old son has had to make the 45 minute walk home from school several times after missing the bus. Missing the bus is not uncommon and students may be bullied on their way home. Parents also worry about the fact that children can’t come home for lunch and wander off school property unsupervised.

Ms. Hagi-nur told an Education Action Etobicoke North meeting on November 4 that she and other parents can’t monitor their children’s education at Elmbank, “We have no clue to what’s happening with our kids,” she says. She adds that she is not happy with the school, asking, “Why are they putting all the poor kids in one school?”

Indeed the measure for determining the degree of challenges a school faces, considers family income, education and number of single parent households. In the resulting calculation, called the Learning Opportunities Index (LOI), a lower score indicates greater challenges. The LOI ranks Humberwood Downs at 371 and Elmbank at 207 out of 473 elementary schools in the TDSB. Elmbank has more serious challenges as a school.

Noting that Queen’s Plate Drive students cannot stay behind to get extra help after school or join clubs, sports and other recreational activities, Ms Hagi-nur added that families are cut off from their community, feeling segregated from their home school while not belonging at Elmbank.

Ms. Hagi-Nur , with Education Action: Etobicoke North applied to speak to School Program Committee on November 11 to push forward their bid to return to their neighbourhood school. The application was turned down. The decision on whether or not to allow these students to attend Humberwood Downs has been put back to the local TDSB officials.

One of those officials is Superintendent of Education, Annie Appleby who acknowledges how difficult it is for Queens Plate Drive students to participate in school life, adding that transit is limited in the area, so parents cannot easily take part in their children’s day-to- day education. However, she claims that the Humberwood Downs is full, so there is no way Queens Plate Drive students can return. TDSB Planning Department figures indicate otherwise with the school at 87% capacity or 931 students. There is a small gap of about 144 spaces that could accommodate the extra students. Enrolment at the school is declining a little; in 2013 the Planning Department estimates it will be at 83% capacity.

TDSB Planning Department also said that the housing in question was constructed after the decision to change Humberwood Downs’ boundaries. This also is not the case – the buildings went up in in 1994.

North Etobicoke trustee, John Hastings says that he is planning to meet with these parents to “shape … solutions realistically together.” Parents have a tough struggle ahead of them.


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