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Parents scramble to make back-up plans amid John Fisher turmoil

Parents scramble to make back-up plans amid John Fisher turmoil
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About 200 parents and students protested outside John Fisher Public School earlier this month to voice their concerns about a tower slated to be built steps from their school  (Sandi De Camargo Photo)  

By Andrea Gordon Education Reporter

Mon., March 20, 2017

When Colleen Rabie’s youngest daughter starts Grade 2 next fall, she could be walking through the doors of her third new public school in four years.

Rabie is struggling to get her head around that possibility in the wake of controversial plans to erect a 35-storey tower next to John Fisher Public School near Yonge and Eglinton.

The situation means distressed parents like Rabie are threatening to pull their children from the French immersion school because of safety concerns and the chance it will be moved to another site 6 kilometres away. It also has the Toronto District School Board scrambling to find alternative spots in neighbourhood schools.

The problem is most schools don’t have room for kids who leave John Fisher, which has 500 students.

“In the board’s long-term planning, it was never anticipated that we could have a mass exodus from one of the schools,” says trustee Gerri Gershon, who calls it a unique situation.

In an attempt to manage the ripple effect, she and trustee Shelley Laskin are proposing a motion at a TDSB board meeting this week for a special process to decide where to place students, many of whom could end up out of their catchment areas.

“It’s a real dilemma,” says Gershon. “The local schools are full and some of them are over-capacity. We will do our absolute best to accommodate parents where we can, but we have a school system to run and we cannot overcrowd the schools or overcrowd the classrooms.”

Eglinton Avenue Public School stands to be the most affected as the English-language home school for 200 kids currently at John Fisher.

While it’s unclear how many students might leave John Fisher, many parents like Rabie have already approached the home schools their kids would normally return to.

Families who want to continue French immersion face two possibilities: staying at John Fisher’s current site if a TDSB risk assessment expected in the next few weeks finds construction can be done safely or a relocation to the site of Vaughan Road Academy, which will close in June and is about 6 kilometres away.

“We’re between a rock and hard place, with no way out,” says Rabie, who says keeping her two daughters at a neighbourhood school is a priority but is alarmed at having them in class next to a massive construction zone.

Her daughters, 9 and 6, followed the usual path to French immersion, attending junior kindergarten at their home school, Eglinton Avenue, and moving to John Fisher the following year to start French.

With Eglinton already over-capacity, there’s a good chance the girls will end up in a school out of the area next year, a situation Rabie says is unfair to families and upsetting and disruptive to children.

If passed, the motion by Gershon and Laskin could also open the door for a similar process of placing students outside catchment areas in other parts of the city where development is outpacing school spaces available to residents.

“If this motion goes through, this means not only our families, but every other one in the TDSB could be affected permanently as the chance of retraction or a time limit on this motion is extremely low,” says Rabie.

The highrise apartment project steps away from John Fisher was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board last year. It has been the subject of heated debate sparked by parents’ concern about how a crane, heavy equipment, traffic, noise, vibrations and air quality will affect safety and learning.

The developer, KG Group, insists relocating the students during the construction process isn’t necessary because safety is “our number one priority.”

About 200 parents and students staged a protest outside the school earlier this month, with many holding signs saying “Stop the Tower.” They were joined by Mayor John Tory, local city councillors Jaye Robinson and Josh Matlow, and trustee Gershon.
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