By Lincoln DePradine
Last March, when the Coronavirus pandemic forced a closure of schools across Canada, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) continued its education programs by offering online learning for students confined at home.
Now, at the start of the new school year, virtual or online learning is an option for TDSB institutions, except for the Africentric Alternative School. This exception, however, is not sitting well with many Black parents.
“I think that every child in this context of COVID should have the right to be educated at home,’’ said Ginelle Skerritt, who is godmother of a child attending the Africentric School. “Why should it (online learning) be available to one set of students and not another, and how was it decided that the Africentric School was not qualified for that?’’
The Africentric Alternative School, which opened more than a decade ago with an enrolment of 128 students, accepts children from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8.
The school, at 1430 Sheppard Avenue West, is the only one of its kind in Canada and has established “three key outcomes’’ for students. They are “high academic achievement’’ and “high self-pride’’, as well as a “high motivation to succeed’’.
The school’s library features a wide collection of Africentric books, featuring stories from ancient history to the civil rights movement.
TDSB, in a statement, said it has more than 77,000 students in “Virtual School’’.
“At this time, alternative programs will not be available through Virtual School,’’ the statement reads.
The board, in its statement, said it does not possess “the resources to support the instructional focus of each of the TDSB’s alternative schools in the virtual school environment’’, which negatively impacts online Africentric teaching.
Tamra Griffiths, a parent, said she was “very shocked’’ at the board’s decision and helped launched a petition to reverse TDSB’s cut to the Africentric School’s online teaching curriculum.
“They did it for one program, they can do it for another,’’ she said.
The petition, available on Change.org, wants students at the Africentric Alternative School to be allowed to “continue their Africentric curriculum while doing virtual learning during the 2020/2021 school year’’.
Many parents, out of concern about COVID-19, “have decided to choose the virtual online learning vs sending their children/child back to school,’’ the petition says. “Families, who chose to be a part of the virtual online learning, will not be able to continue with their Africentric learning. They will be grouped up with various students from different schools who also decided to do virtual online learning’’.
Skerritt, a well-known community activist and leader, pointed out that the TDSB managed online teaching for the Africentric School six months ago.
“So, my thinking is that they should be able to continue to do it for those students now,’’ she told The Caribbean Camera.
“We had quite a decision to make as to whether to send our child to school or have him take online learning. We appreciate having that choice, recognizing that online learning is the safest option in this COVID uncertainty,’’ she added. “Not having the option is a clear case of differential treatment.’’