Toronto

TDSB has a change of heart after barring 21 kids from downtown school to make room for foreign students

"Everyone can breathe a little easier," daycare head says after school board reconsiders plan to bar some students from a downtown junior kindergarten program.

Pre-schoolers are from outside Orde St. PS catchment area

Anna Gionet, executive director of the Orde Daycare Centre near University Avenue and College Street, says TDSB officials told daycare directors that some junior kindergarten spots in the attached public school are being reserved for the children of overseas medical professionals — an accusation the board denies. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

The Toronto District School Board was planning to bar 21 preschoolers at a downtown daycare from moving up to a junior kindergarten class across the hall, saying the spots were needed for the children of incoming foreign doctors and researchers.

Now, the board appears to have had a change of heart.

"Everyone can breathe a little easier," Orde Daycare Centre executive director Anna Gionet told CBC Toronto after getting the news Monday.

"I was just relieved for the parents and the children, that they don't have to be disrupted, and for the staff at the daycare."

The young students at the heart of this story are scheduled to graduate to a junior kindergarten class at Orde Street Junior Public School (OSJPS) in September. But last Thursday, their parents were told in a letter from the school's principal that there wouldn't be room for them, after all.

"It's very, very frustrating," said Jeanne Martin, a mother of two children — one of whom goes to the daycare and the other the junior kindergarten.

"These are real kids, and their siblings."

Jeanne Martin, who has one daughter at Orde Street Junior Public School and another at the Orde Daycare Centre, says she's upset that the TDSB ruled her youngest won't be allowed to attend the pubic school along with her big sister. (Sue Reid/CBC)

Directors of the Order Daycare Centre said they met with TDSB officials Monday morning and were told later in the day that the board had found room for all the children expected to register at the school for the 2019-2020 school year.

The TDSB confirmed the news in a statement later Monday, after CBC Toronto published its story.

"To provide more time for parents to plan alternatives, students who currently attend the child care centre and live outside the attendance boundary will be able to attend Junior Kindergarten at the school in September 2019," the statement said. "Admission restrictions will instead take effect in September 2020."

The board had denied the children were being displaced by the families of foreign medical research fellows. The board said in a statement to CBC Toronto the affected students are from outside the Orde school's catchment area and are being redirected simply because the school is full.

But that doesn't line up with what three of the daycare's directors say they were told by board planners at a Feb. 15 meeting.

Gionet, who was at the meeting, said the board staff told them that doctors and academics from overseas were expected to arrive in the school district, near University Avenue and College Street, by September.

Jeanne Martin and Mabel, 4, leave Orde Street Junior Public School, where Mabel is in junior kindergarten. (Sue Reid/CBC)

And they'd most likely choose to live within the Orde school's catchment area, since it's close to downtown hospitals and research centres.

"They indicated to us at this meeting that they expected an influx of fellows — that's what they're called — and they would take up spaces," Gionet said. 

"It's absolutely unfair."

She said the board's representatives couldn't say how many fellows were expected, whether they had children or how many school places might be needed.

"There's no guarantee that they have children that are school-aged that will need to use Orde Public School," she added.

The school's proximity to hospitals and research centres on University Avenue has made Orde Street Junior Pubic School especially popular with parents who work in the medical field, both locals and those visiting from abroad, educators in the area say. (Mike Smee/CBC)

As recently as early February, parents say they'd been told their children could graduate to the school's junior kindergarten classes in fall 2019, even though they live outside the school district's boundaries.

Last week's news was a bitter disappointment for some, who'd been looking forward to seeing their kids move into regular classes at the school, which in some cases is also attended by their older siblings.

"The caregivers know our children and they know our family," said Martin, who was one daughter in the Orde daycare and another at the school. "If I have children at two different schools, that's a challenge.

The TDSB says increasing local demand for spots at Orde Street Junior Public School — not an influx of foreign medical fellows — is behind a recent decision to limit enrolment from a nearby daycare, a decision that was overturned Monday. (Mike Smee/CBC)

"So we have a lot of decisions to make."

Parents and daycare directors say as recently as Feb. 8 they'd been assured that out-of-district pre-schoolers would be allowed to enrol in Orde's junior kindergarten program for the fall of 2019.

That all changed, they say, at the Feb. 15 meeting, after which the school's principal, Michael Walkington, sent a letter to parents warning that out-of-district children would no longer be streamed into the school from the daycare.

The playground at Orde Street Junior Pubic School. The TDSB says the school has more applicants than spaces, but directors of an adjacent daycare say their kids are being squeezed out by the board's preference for families of foreign medical professionals. (Mike Smee/CBC)

"No student who resides outside of the school's boundaries will be able to attend Orde Street Public School," he wrote in a Feb. 21 letter to parents.

"Please note: this includes siblings of current students.

"We are sorry for this potential upset for some families, but our school is running over
capacity and we simply do not have the space for out-of-area students."

Children already enrolled at OSJPS aren't affected by the decision to exclude out-of-district kids, the board's statement said.

'School building is full' 

"In 2017 we made the decision to close Orde Street PS to Optional Attendance. Optional Attendance is the TDSB's policy that permits students who live outside a school's attendance boundary to attend the school. Orde Street PS was closed to optional attendance because the school building is full due to rising enrolment among students from within the boundary."

Martin, who lives in the Vaughan Road and Oakwood Avenue neighbourhood, said many families like the Orde daycare and school because they're close to downtown workplaces, and ease the daily struggle of picking up and dropping off multiple children each school day.

Martin said parents had asked the board for a year's grace to come up with other arrangements, but were denied.

The University Health Network, which includes nearby Toronto General Hospital and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, said it had no knowledge of a plan to enrol the children of UHN's incoming medical fellows within Orde's school district.

About the Author

Mike Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at michael.smee@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.