York Memorial students stage walkout to protest ‘deplorable’ conditions at Toronto high school

Dozens of students walked out of class Friday and into the biting cold to send a message to officials with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Students, parents, and community members stood in solidarity, condemning what they say are “deplorable” conditions inside York Memorial Collegiate Institute.

In September, York Memorial Collegiate Institute merged with George Harvey Collegiate Institute. Around 1,300 students currently attend the west Toronto high school, located near Keele Street and Eglinton Avenue West.

The walkout comes in the wake of multiple recent reports of violence inside the school. Last month, 14 staff members refused to work at the building. The board tells Global News that since then, the majority have returned to their jobs.

Students sounded off about a severe lack of resources and teachers, an unsafe learning environment and racism they say they’ve experienced at school.

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Read more: Ontario providing funding for ‘major addition’ to York Memorial Collegiate Institute

Staff and students were initially displaced from their school in May 2019, when a massive fire gutted the original York Memorial Collegiate Institute. The site remains under construction, and the board tells Global News that for now, the doors are slated to reopen in September 2026.

“When making such a big decision as merging two schools, significant action should have been taken to prevent something like this from happening. Actions specifically taken before, not during when things take a chaotic turn,” said one student protester while addressing the crowd.

The group travelled on foot from 1700 Keele St. to 2 Trethewey Dr., the nearest TDSB building. It’s also attached to the original York Memorial structure.

“Right now, unfortunately, there’s a narrative that it’s bad youth, bad school, bad community when we’re not really paying attention to why people are acting this way, why is the school environment like this, and it’s due to the neglect of the school board,” said Stephen Mensah, executive director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet.

Mensah was among those standing in solidarity with students as they vocalized their biggest concerns about their school environment.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a rise in school violence, we’ve seen a rise in violent incidents in schools, and overall, it’s affecting young people’s mental health and academics. And there’s just been a lot of neglect on, unfortunately, the part of the city and our school board,” he told Global News.

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Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) Toronto president Michelle Teixeira says the union has heard from many of the teachers at York Memorial over the last couple of months.

“Many of them are afraid for their safety in the schools. There are concerns around facilities, issues such as classrooms and isolated areas of the building, classrooms that don’t have doors or working locks,” she added.

Students also say they’re being left without bare necessities like toilet paper in washrooms.

Read more: TDSB files $90M lawsuit against Toronto Fire Services, police, province over York Memorial CI fire (2021)

TDSB director of education Colleen Russell-Rawlins, was pressed about the plethora of problems raised by the students. She says the board’s facilities teams are addressing the issues surrounding washrooms.

“We are going to conduct an investigation into what led to what you experienced. First, our efforts are to try and correct all of the issues that you have addressed,” said Russell-Rawlins during Friday’s demonstration.

“Yes we absolutely need to figure out how we got here and address any of the things that shouldn’t have happened.”

On Friday evening, the board shared with Global News a letter sent to parents of students.

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The board says it anticipates being able to announce a new permanent principal and vice-principals sometime next week. Additional supervision and counselling supports will begin next week and stay in place until the end of the school year.

The form also makes mention of ensuring washroom products are fully stocked, as well as ensuring a clear process is in place to report incidents of racism.

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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