While many are keeping their minds off of school during March Break, parents of the 500 students attending John Fisher Public School are keeping their eyes on theirs.
Since the announcement that a 35-storey condo development was approved to be built just steps away from the school (and a connected daycare), parents have been faced with a dilemma of what will happen to the students once construction is expected to get underway later this year.
Now parents say they’ve learned they may still have a say in the fate of students at the school. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has plans to distribute a survey asking parents what’d they’d like to see happen.
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Sources tell CityNews the survey options include: keeping students at John Fisher while mitigating the construction risks, moving the students to Vaughn Road Academy six kilometres away, or placing students in their English-language neighbouring schools. John Fisher has the largest French speaking centre in the city.
“The survey to gauge parent interest in the different options is still being finalized and has not been distributed but it will likely include a number of options that you mentioned or at least something similar,” TDSB Spokesperson Ryan Bird told Citynews. “In general, parents have a lot of weight in the next steps.”
The survey will be distributed once the second phase of the risk assessment is completed, according to Bird. The assessment will consider what impacts the development will have on the students during construction.
Parents say they fear they’re being hurried into making a decision, without having all the information from the board.
“In the meeting, we were told that the Toronto District School Board was going to accelerate the timetable for delivering the second phase of the risk assessment, and it sounded like the reason they were doing it was based on timing on their collective agreement and not on the safety of the children in the school,” said Etienne Devilliers, whose daughter attends the school.
The collective agreement involves the assigning of staff and teachers for the next school year, and if John Fisher students are expected to relocate, that’s something the board would need to consider. But the TDSB says that is not a factor, and the survey will be released once the second phase of the risk assessment is completed.
“There is a collective agreement issues with regards to timing, but in this case, our focus is on getting the information out to parents as soon as we can, so that they can make a decision,” Bird said.
Parents have expressed concern over having students remain at the school during the duration of construction, saying the work will pose health and safety risks.
Devilliers explains that parents have been told very little about what plans the TDSB has to mitigate the project next door. For instance, Devilliers says the school board hasn’t explained how transportation will be arranged if the students are expected to relocate. Devilliers also says the third option of having students attending their home English school isn’t realistic.
“All the schools in the neighbourhood are over capacity,” he explained. “We’ve been told by numerous schools that children attending John Fisher are not accepted at their home English school, which is alarming for a lot of parents.”
The development project was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, but opposed by the city, and the parents who have kids attending the neighbouring school. Parents are hoping this conversation is more than just about what happens to the students in the short term.
“Our concern is the safety of this development for the next 30 years, not just beyond the construction,” another parent said. “Once the developer is gone, those safety risks will remain, and who will be responsible?”
A local committee group will be holding a parent meeting at the school on March 22nd, to provide further updates and discuss the project further.