Students with special needs bring loud protest to city hall

The voice of Jordan Williams permeated a Hamilton school board meeting Monday as he stood atop a snow bank outside with a megaphone.
A tearful Kayla Woods, 18, appeals to school board trustee Tim Simmons to have a separate vocational school for students with special needs. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The voice of Jordan Williams permeated a Hamilton school board meeting Monday as he stood atop a snow bank outside with a megaphone.

First he called to the director of education.

“Mr. John Malloy, if you can hear me, come outside,” he shouted.

Then he set his sights on the city’s mayor.

“Where is the mayor Bob Bratina?” he called. “He said he would come to greet us.”

Jordan Williams, 18, led the protest against the dismantling of the vocational school system. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Neither of the men appeared in the bitter cold outside city hall on Monday night. But the student voice was heard as a group of about 60 students and supporters from Parkview Secondary School gathered to protest the school’s closure.

The vocational high school, which serves about 230 students with special needs, is set to close in June. That school and nearby King George elementary will be demolished and become the home of a new north-end high school. Parking will be nearby at the site of another former high school, Scott Park.

In the short term, Parkview students will go to either their closest high school, nearby Delta Secondary or Mountain, the board's other vocational school, which is set to close in 2017. Next year, Mountain will stop accepting Grade 9 students, with the school slowly being phased out.

Whatever option students choose, it will soon mean the end of a dedicated vocational high schools in Hamilton. Future students will attend an integrated composite school.

That makes Parkview students anxious, said Williams, the school president. He led the group in front of city hall that carried signs with messages such as “We want our program.”

Naaman Walters, 15, protests the closure of Parkview Secondary. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Tim Simmons, trustee for Ward 3, spent more than half an hour talking to the crowd outside the meeting. School staff will meet with each Parkview student to discuss their needs, he said.

Kayla Wood, 18, was tearful as she made her case to Simmons.

“With the school closing, I don’t think she’ll go to school,” Wood’s mother Heather said. “If there’s not a program in place for her, she will drop out.”

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees voted in May 2012 to close the school, along with Delta and Sir John A. Macdonald, and build one new high school in the Pan Am precinct.

They also voted to close Hill Park, Barton and Mountain and combine them in one school southeast of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway.

Parkview principal Paul Beattie will become the principal at Mountain Secondary in the fall, chair Jessica Brennan said.

"Senior staff have heard and listened to the concerns of parents and students,” she said.

Williams is glad that existing Parkview students can attend Mountain for the next few years. But he worries that future students will miss what a vocational school has to offer.

“I call it patching the hole in the wall,” he said of the Mountain option. “We need to look at the facts for the other kids.”

The Sherman Hub neighbourhood group is holding a meeting at Parkview on Tuesday evening from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. to discuss the school. Simmons and Malloy will answer questions from the audience.