Parents of students in gifted programs in the city worry the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) could cancel some of those programs.
Their concerns come after reading an interim report by a school board task force that had already sparked fears for other parents that their children's specialized schools could be closed. Those fears led to a clarification from the school board director.
The draft report by the Enhancing Equity Task Force, which aims to remove disparities to better serve students who are being overlooked, recommends reforming the gifted program, along with other special education programs, and placing students in regular classrooms "with necessary supports."
The report notes the gifted program is "deepening divisions along socio-economic and racial lines."
'I felt really lonely and isolated'
Fabian Sekora, 15, is in Grade 10 and has been in the gifted program at Northern Secondary School for the past two years.
He says before entering the program he never fit in at school.
"I felt really excluded," he said. "People called me 'weird' and 'strange'... I felt really lonely and isolated."
That all changed, he says, once he moved into classes with other gifted students.
Now, no one would think twice about his career goals — to become a pharmacist, then a foreign diplomat.
"I feel like I'm in a big community, a big family, everybody understands me. It's like a second home."
TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird reminds people that the report's recommendations are only preliminary and a final report, to be released Dec. 13, will take into account public feedback.
Peggy Judge, whose daughter and son both attend the gifted program at Northern Secondary School, hopes the board will seek input on possible changes from students and former students.
She worries that while the TDSB director clarified the board's position on arts schools following the release of the draft report, he did not mention gifted programs.
"When things have happened in the past where we feel there hasn't been good communication and there hasn't been transparency, then we get concerned that there's an agenda," Judge said.
She, along with other parents she knows, sent an email to the task force in advance of its Nov. 20 deadline.
"We need to be very loud now before it's too late and the decisions have been made."
The final report from the task force is not binding.
The TDSB says the public will have another chance to give feedback after it's released, then trustees will vote to decide whether they would make any changes to programs.