Parents of several Nelson Mandela Park Public School students say they are concerned by an announcement that the Toronto District School Board is considering moving hundreds of students who attend class on the Toronto Islands into the Regent Park building.
The reason for the possible merge: The time it takes to shuttle kids from the city to the Islands, says TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird.
In the warmer months, a larger ferry is used to take students to the Islands. But during winter, a smaller ferry needs to be used. That ferry can now only be at 50 per cent capacity due to COVID-19 and takes multiple trips, which is causing many students to arrive hours late for class and returning home, said Bird.
The possibility of combining the schools comes as Nelson Mandela Park Public School is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19.
Three students and two teachers tested positive for COVID-19 there last week, said Bird. Toronto Public Health also sent out a notice to parents that an outbreak had been declared.
Despite that, the board will be consulting with parents of children at both schools about the possibility of merging.
Nelson Mandela Park P.S. has been used as an emergency site for students at The Island School in past years, when issues like flooding have impeded their access to the school, Bird said.
If The Island School students attend Nelson Mandela Park P.S., they would follow strict safety protocols, he said.
“This is not just about taking two schools and putting them together,” said Bird. “If we did relocate to a different school we’d have them primarily on different levels, different schedules, different facilities. We would separate these two schools as much as humanly possible within a building,” he said.
Bird said that the board’s first option is to have everyone stay where they are and make adjustments for the The Island School students.
“We’re looking at all the options available to us,” he said, adding that the TDSB knows there’s space at Nelson Mandela P.S. for the displaced students. “We want to make sure that we exhaust ever single option and then hear from parents at both schools before a decision is made.”
Some parents told decision was already finalized
Rachel DiSaia has a six and seven-year-old attending Nelson Mandela P.S. She says the parent council she’s a part of was told that the Island students would be definitely attending and that a decision had already been made.
Now, the board says they are consulting with parents first, said DiSaia.
“I don’t think they’d have any intention of consulting if I hadn’t been contacting everyone in the last few days,” she said.
DiSaia says parents are worried about adding even more students to a school where there are confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“It’s outrageous to think that it would be a good idea to close to double the number of students in the building during a pandemic,” she said.
She says the board should consider using buildings that are city property that are sitting unused instead. When asked about those buildings, Bird said if that’s a viable option, it will be considered.
“I think there are enough options in the city,” said DiSaia. “I understand that [money’s] a concern. But it’s not a bigger concern than the health of those 500 students and teachers.”
Regent Park is also a COVID-19 hotspot and the area does not need more safety concerns, she said.
The neighbourhood currently has a rate of 444 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, according to city data. Out of 140 neighbourhoods in the city, Regent Park is in the top 30 for highest number of cases per 100,000 people, the data shows.
“It’s unfair to a community of predominantly equity-deserving groups that are consistently ignored. This just feels like another situation where our voices are not being heard,” said DiSaia.
She said the board’s “lack of transparency” has her wondering whether the possibility of moving the Island students into the school will be done with safety in mind.
“It makes me question whose best interests they have in mind, because I don’t think it’s our children and I don’t think it’s our teachers,” she said.