York Memorial students stage walkout over ‘deplorable school conditions’

Dozens of students from York Memorial C.I. walked out over what they call deplorable learning conditions. Shauna Hunt reports.

Hundreds of York Memorial Collegiate Institute students staged a walkout from class Friday morning over what they say are “deplorable school conditions.”

Students say they have been subjected to “racial profiling, [an] unsafe learning environment, police violence, and teacher work refusals,” according to a release about the walkout.

Those who walked out of school headed to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) office at Keele and Eglinton streets, where several students spent an hour giving passionate speeches about issues they face daily, including a lack of resources and support for ongoing violence in the hallways.

“It’s impossible to learn in an environment like this,” said one student who addressed the crowd.

“You think you’re learning, then it’s screaming and chaos … It instantly throws you off. Teachers [are] deciding to stay home, claiming they’re unsafe, leaves us stranded and lost with constant supply teachers with no teaching, but continuous homework and assignments,” said the student. “Nothing is being achieved.”

“You dread coming to this school every day,” said another student.

A third said all they are asking for is a safe environment.

“We are asking for a safe environment that protects us physically and mentally. We need our teachers, administrators, community leaders and parents to support us in standing up against the TDSB and fighting for our rights.”

TDSB director Colleen Russell-Rawlins addressed the gathering shortly after hearing students’ concerns and admitted it shouldn’t have taken this long to address the problems facing York Memorial.

She added they would meet with students and parents regularly to address their concerns.

“We’ve heard you, and we will meet with you so we know exactly what the demands are,” said Rawlins.

RELATED: Fights, guns, overdoses: Staff at York Memorial warn school on brink of crisis

CityNews spoke with staff members anonymously, who said the school is on the brink of a crisis due to fights in the hallways, violence against teachers and even weapons.

Fourteen of the school’s 80 staff members staged a one-day work refusal campaign due to safety issues last month – an unprecedented number at a single school, a union representing secondary school teachers in Toronto said.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) said more than 75 health and safety concerns from York Memorial teachers have also been submitted to the TDSB.

Both staff members were adamant that the majority of the students are great, and it’s only around 100 students who are causing the issue: “This is a small number of students who are hijacking everyone’s learning and teaching environment.”

The staff members also say there has been a lack of stable leadership at the school, with a “revolving door” of administrators.

When asked about the situation at the school, Premier Doug Ford, whose nephew Michael Ford is the MPP for the area, said the province doesn’t have any plans to intervene.

“We always leave that up to the school boards; we don’t have jurisdiction … but I’ll tell you if there are any violent crimes and any gun crimes happening, this goes back to the federal government.”

With files from Faiza Amin of CityNews

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