On April 2, 2020, we hosted a web chat to connect with the community about the draft Specialized Schools and Programs Policy. More than 150 people participated and more than 70 questions were asked! We didn't get to answer everything in the hour, so below are the answers to the rest of the questions. Many of them were similar, so we have grouped them together and by themes.
Read the transcript of the whole web chat.
Why is this policy being developed?
the policy review schedule that is approved by the Board of Trustees and is revised on a regular basis. View the latest policy review schedule.
This new Specialized Schools and Programs policy is being developed to improve clarity when it comes to admission procedures, practices and timelines which differ from those in regular schools. This new policy, which supports the Secondary Program Review, will help more students have access to these programs.
Why is a policy necessary when the TDSB already has a strong system of specialized programs that are all in demand?
We were aware of the varied practices in many of our schools and programs and recognized that things needed to change in our system to improve learning outcomes for all students and address the disparities that impact our students. To address this, we created the Enhancing Equity Task Force which identified that some disparities exist between and within our schools and, while benefiting some students, may have inadvertently resulted in inequity for others.
One important way of addressing these disparities is through the development of policy that creates consistency and ensures equity. For specialized schools and programs, that means an opportunity – and a need – to be clearer when it comes to admission procedures, practices and timelines, which differ from those in regular schools. Together, this new policy and review will help more students have access to these programs.
Although our programs are in high demand, it is essential that the TDSB ensure equitable learning environments for each and every student. This means ensuring that all students have access – the same access – to learning, opportunities, resources and tools to succeed while keeping our high standard of excellence for all students.
Does the TDSB see these measures as cost saving or equity to provide this equitable goal?
This policy supports equity of access and at the same time promotes the concept of local neighbourhood schools which can have strong programs for local students.
How will the recent policy recommendations on Optional Attendance impact students wanting to attend a district-wide specialized program?
District-wide specialized programs will no longer fall under the Optional Attendance policy. This new policy allows for two separate processes, potentially with two different timelines.
Is Gifted programming part of this policy?
No, Gifted programs are not Specialized Programs; they come under the umbrella of Special Education.
Are you eliminating Elite Athlete programs?
No, we are not eliminating Elite Athlete programs.
District Wide vs. Local Access
Will there be an effort to expand district-wide specialized programs to parts of the city where students currently do not have access?
A key component of the Secondary Program Review is to examine the programming offered in secondary schools and identify gaps. Based on feedback that we are receiving through surveys, consultations and feedback, we will explore the expansion of new programs in parts of the city where they do not exist. Ultimately, want to ensure that every school offers a wide range of programming for all students.
Can students in an existing specialized program change to a local specialized program if a new program is introduced in their designated school?
We support the concept of the neighbourhood school and want students to see their local school as a first choice. Students can return to their designated school at the appropriate in-take opportunity (start of school year, semester change). Again, the admission process to the local specialized program will coincide with the course selection process.
Will you have input from the community if you decide to change from a district-wide specialized program to a local specialized program?
Yes, we will work with the local school principal and superintendent to provide an appropriate opportunity for input from staff, students and parents. Procedural aspects of this decision will be outlined once the Operational Procedure is drafted, which follows approval of the policy.
Where can I find information about in-person consultations with various TDSB groups and communities, including students?
We follow a Policy Development Work Plan when developing a new policy. The Work Plan for this policy can be found here. A summary of the consultations that have taken place can be found in the Secondary Program Review update reports to Committee of the Whole, are posted here.
Upcoming consultation opportunities are shared in a number of ways: the TDSB website, email invitations to specific groups, social media, and newsletters from the Board, schools and Trustees.
How can students and school staff at impacted schools share their opinions?
We encourage all stakeholders to complete our online survey.
The survey was also shared directly with all school councils, principals, and Trustees, with the expectation that they share it directly with their communities. Additional consultation opportunities will be scheduled and information will be shared through the same channels.
Will another draft of the policy for review be shared before it is implemented?
We continue to receive input from parents, students, teachers, staff and the community, which will inform the next iteration of the policy.
The draft policy will then be presented to Trustees at the Governance and Policy Committee. Members of the public are welcome to bring forward issues and concerns they have through a delegation, which is addressing a committee of the Board of Trustees (by speaking or submitting a written statement). Learn more about delegations.
Who can I speak to if I am concerned with the direction TDSB is moving towards?
The public is always welcome to raise concerns with their local Trustee. As well, in addition to completing the online survey, feedback on this specific policy can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will the admissions criteria differ for district-wide specialized programs and local specialized programs? Will district-wide programs have a set of rules they would need to follow to match with other schools offering similar programs? How would that apply to local programs?
It is important to have common admissions criteria for schools with the same or similar programs. For example, admission to the International Baccalaureate program should be the same, regardless of where the program is offered. When the policy is approved, staff will work with schools offering the same district-wide program to develop common and consistent admissions criteria for each program type (STEM, Arts, Elite Athlete, etc.).
Admission criteria to local specialized programs will be established at each school, in consultation with the school superintendent and central staff.
Will this new policy change the audition requirements to apply to a Music program at Arts-focussed schools? And if so, won't that water down the high level of excellence being offered at that school?
The Board will consider each program type (STEM, Arts, Elite Athlete etc.) to develop consistent admissions criteria and practices. This is not about taking students without skill – this is about access and opportunity, and to see potential in a different way.
Will students accepted into a specialized secondary school for September 2020 under Optional Attendance be impacted?
No, they will not be affected as no changes are being made for the 2020-21 school year. For students in the 2021-22 school year and beyond, admission to these programs will not be addressed as part of the Optional Attendance policy. District-wide specialized programs will continue to accept students who live outside of the school’s attendance areas for those specific programs.
How can a central department determine acceptance to a program?
Central departments will not be deciding who is accepted into a program. This decision will remain at the local level. However, the admissions criteria and practices will be consistent in schools with the same or similar programs. We will work actively with each school to develop admissions criteria and an approach that meets the needs of the programs.
How will future students living outside of Toronto be impacted? Will they still be permitted into specialized programs?
As stated in the draft policy, for district-wide specialized programs, first priority is given to students who live in the City of Toronto. Students residing outside of the City of Toronto will only be considered after all applicants from the City of Toronto have been offered a placement.
For local specialized programs, program admission for students will begin after the student has registered at that school. Students from outside of the City of Toronto can apply to a school with a local program if there is space in the school, but admission into the local specialized program will still not begin until after registration is complete.
Will students who are not TDSB students be allowed to apply to specialized programs?
Yes, these programs are open to all students who reside in the City of Toronto, even if the students are not currently attending a TDSB school. However, students who reside outside of the City of Toronto will only be considered after all Toronto students have been offered a placement.
Questions related to the Secondary Program Review
Are we being short-sighted by closing schools?
The Ministry of Education announced a moratorium on school closures in June 2017, and this moratorium is still in effect.
The Board has received special permission to proceed with a single Pupil Accommodation Review involving York Memorial Collegiate Institute and George Harvey Collegiate Institute. This process was approved after the tragic fire that occurred at the York Memorial building in May 2019.
The Secondary Program Review will consider options for future school consolidations to address the surplus capacity that is projected to continue to exist in parts of the City. With 20,000 surplus places in secondary schools, and with some secondary schools operating with fewer than 500 students, consolidations will be part of the recommendations included in the final Secondary Program Review report.