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.
On November 18 and November 22, 2021 we hosted 3 live webinar consultations via Zoom.
A video recording of one of the webinars can be found here.
The presentation slides can be found here.
Further Q & A from the sessions can be found here.
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.
What is the focus of this policy?
The focus of this policy is about improving access to programming for students across the TDSB. It will help in the development of consistent criteria and guidelines for district-wide programming and ensure that all admissions and applications are grounded in equity, inclusion and human rights.
The policy also creates a new distinction between our two types of specialized programs offered in the TDSB:
- District/board-wide specialized programs
- Local specialized programs
Specialized schools and programs that currently exist will be identified as district/board-wide or local programs. New programs will also be identified as district/board-wide or local.
What specialized programs are currently being offered by the TDSB?
Click here for a list of current Secondary Specialized Schools and Programs and here for the Elementary Offerings.
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.
Are Gifted programming and French Immersion part of this policy?
No, gifted and French immersion are not Specialized Programs. Gifted programs come under the umbrella of Special Education and French immersion is overseen by its own policy (French as a Second Language P080). Additionally, Alternative Schools do not fall under the scope of this policy.
Are you eliminating Elite Athlete programs?
No, we are not eliminating Elite Athlete programs.
When would these changes occur?
No changes will be made for the 2021-22 school year. First, the new policy needs to be finalized. Once the consultation is complete, a final version will be drafted and presented to Trustees. Once approved, an operational procedure will be developed to implement the policy. The policy and the associated procedures should be in place for September 2022, overseeing the application process for admission in September 2023. Please visit this site to read more about the Secondary Program Review. https://www.tdsb.on.ca/High-School/Secondary-Program-Review/Interim-Report-2020
District/Board-Wide vs. Local Specialized Programs
Will there be an effort to expand district/board-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, we 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 existing specialized programs be identified as local specialized programs?
Most existing specialized programs will be identified as district-wide programs (e.g., Arts schools, IB programs), available to everyone, while some existing programs may be deemed local specialized programs, available only to students registered in that school (e.g. SHSM, LAWS).
This decision will be made in consultation with the local school principal, the school superintendent and central departments.
Why would an existing specialized program be identified as a Local Specialized Program?
One reason is that some of our schools have more students than can be accommodated. In order to provide the best experience possible for all students, we may need to limit acceptance into some programs.
Also, in some schools, students from the local neighbourhood do not benefit from the specialized program at all because all spaces are given to out-of-area students. By changing the admission process, we create an opportunity for local students to benefit from the program and encourage enrolment in the local school.
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.
What will be the impact on existing students of specialized programs/schools if a change is made?
Students already enrolled in a program would continue in the program until graduation/ program completion. Changes would only impact future grades.
Did we not have Local Specialized programs before?
Schools have been offering Local Specialized Programs, but there was no specific policy for them or for District/Board-wide Specialized Schools and Programs. Everything fell within the Optional Attendance Policy.
Is there a chance that a student will not be accepted to a local specialized program?
Yes. Dependent on space availability for the Specialized local program. Students will be required to first apply to the local school that offers the Specialized Program and once accepted, will then be required to apply for the Specialized program at that school.
Where can I find information about consultations with various TDSB groups and communities, including students?
We follow a Policy Development Work Plan when developing a new policy. For more information, see the Work Plan for this policy. A summary of the consultations that have taken place can be found in the Secondary Program Review update reports to Committee of the Whole.
The current public consultation opportunities have been 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?
Additional consultation opportunities will be scheduled and information will be shared through school councils, Principals and Trustees with the expectation that they will share it directly with their communities.
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, feedback on this specific policy can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will the admissions criteria differ for district/board-wide specialized programs and local specialized programs? Will district/board-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/board-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.
What are the standards of admission to any of these programs and who decides if they are equitable or not?
Currently, admission criteria are set by individual schools/programs and they differ significantly. Individual school’s Program criteria can be found on their websites which can be found here.
Part of this review process is to standardize the admissions criteria by program type and to ensure that the criteria are easily available to community members. The criteria will be established through extensive consultation with staff and community partners.
Will this new policy change the audition requirements to apply to a Music program at Arts-focused 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 2022 under Optional Attendance be impacted?
No, they will not be affected as no changes are being made for admissions to the 2022-23 school year.
For students applying for admission for the 2023-24 school year and beyond, admission to these programs will not be addressed as part of the Optional Attendance policy. District/board-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/board-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.
When registering at a TDSB school, families will be asked for at least two pieces of ID to confirm addresses of registered students.
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.