For the last year, Etobicoke mother Jucilaine Da Silva has been trying to get her two teenage children into Bishop Allen Academy, but says she was told the school is full.
Then, in June, her godson — an international student who lives in Brazil — was offered a Grade 12 spot at the Catholic high school on Royal York Road. Da Silva says he started classes on Monday, for a tuition fee of more than $13,000.
"What is the lesson about that?" she said. "That money buys anything?"
While Da Silva supports her godson getting a Canadian education, she's now questioning why her two children, a 14-year-old daughter in Grade 9, a Canadian citizen, and her 17-year-old son in Grade 12, a permanent resident, weren't given a spot at the school, while her godson who lives outside the country was.
And she's not the first person with concerns about the way Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) handles international students.
In May, CBC Toronto reported on how parents of children traditionally fed into three high-performing Etobicoke Catholic high schools, including Bishop Allen, were fighting a proposed boundary change that would send some students on a 45-minute commute to another school in North York.
Some of the parents claimed it was because of an influx of international-visa students. Last year, the three schools, including Michael Power and Father John Redmond, had roughly 330 international-program students.
But the TCDSB maintains that international students aren't taking away available spots.
"No Canadian, eligible student is ever replaced by an international student who may be paying a tuition fee," said board spokesperson John Yan.
1,380 international students in TCDSB system
While the average cost for international students attending Catholic schools in Toronto is $14,500, Yan said money isn't a factor in who gets a spot.
"International students are only time-tabled into schools where there is room, and there's space in a course," he said.
In the case of Da Silva's children, she said her daughter specifically applied for the competitive Advanced Placement program at Bishop Allen.
Yan wouldn't comment on her individual situation, but did say while a school may be full, there are often openings in certain courses, and said international students may be more flexible with their choices, rather than picking specific streams.
"If a Canadian student wants to go into a school in Grade 12 and their time-tabling can take advantage of subjects that are open, certainly they would take precedent over an international student," he said.
He also said there are only 1,380 international students in the TCDSB system — a small fraction of the board's overall enrolment of 92,000.
But Da Silva is still baffled by her family's situation, and said the only difference in her kids being rejected and her godson getting the green light is financial.
"I'm extremely frustrated," she said.