Hamilton’s public school board can’t let the fear of bullies influence its decision making when it comes to Parkview school, a trustee says.

Tim Simmons, trustee for Ward 3, told a group of parents and students at Parkview Secondary on Tuesday that the board can’t let bullies run the school board.

“It’s important that we don’t let bullies rule all the things that are good here,” he said. “We can’t let the bullies stop us. We have to stop the bullies.

Tim Simmons and John Malloy

Trustee Tim Simmons, left, and director John Malloy of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board answer questions from Parkview Secondary parents and students. The board will close the vocational school in June. Two neighbourhood groups held the meeting. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“We’re not going to let the bullies run this board.”

Simmons was responding to concerns from the audience that Parkview students, who have special needs, will be bullied once they’re in a comprehensive school.

Parkview will close in June, and its principal and a majority of the same programs will go to Mountain Secondary, which is also a vocational school.

But Mountain will close in 2017 and stop accepting Grade 9 students in the fall, which means future high school students with special needs will go to regular comprehensive schools. A new 1,200-student high school will be built on Parkview’s Balsam Avenue site.

That notion sparked ire among audience members at Monday’s meeting, which was organized by the Sherman and Gibson Landsdale neighbourhood groups. Several students and parents shouted questions from the floor, including the concern that the students would be bullied.

Segregation encourages bullying, board says

The students will be in inclusive schools with more programs and get all the supports they are now, Simmons said. Segregating them makes bullying worse.

Jessica Brennan at Parkview Secondary

Board chair Jessica Brennan, second row from left, smiles as parents and students raise green cards to show they accepted the answers of Tim Simmons and John Malloy at Tuesday's meeting. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“When you move to a more inclusive school where you’re not calling people special ed, but just learning different, where you have assistive technology, where you have diversity in that school, where everyone is coming from all sorts of different places, it’s our hope that people will learn to get along,” Simmons said.

“You’ll always have bullying. I’m sorry. But we will try our best to curb it.”

More than 200 parents, students and supporters attended the session. Questions revolved around how special needs students will be accommodated at other schools, and whether they’ll have access to the same programs and educational assistants.

Tracy Berka, whose son Matthew goes to Parkview, sat in the front row wearing a school T-shirt. The meeting “was a waste of time,” she said.

'It was just fluff'

“The questions they had up there I don’t think were anything anybody wanted to know the answers to,” she said. “It was just fluff they were filling up their time with.”

And despite the comments from Simmons and director John Malloy about the board’s ongoing efforts to curb bullying, she’s still worried.

Jordan Williams

School president Jordan Williams listens to answers during the Parkview Secondary meeting. Williams led a group of students with signs and chants. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“When we went to school, people would pick on you and if you stood up for yourself, they would leave you alone,” she said. “For a normal kid in a normal high school situation, that’s true. But for kids who have anxieties in social situations, that doesn’t work.”

Graduation and attendance rates at Parkview are among the lowest in the board. Research shows graduation rates among students with special needs increase when they’re in comprehensive schools, board chair Jessica Brennan said.

Malloy and Simmons also assured the crowd that a full range of vocational programs will be offered at every high school.

The board is holding a transition meeting for Parkview parents and students Thursday evening.