TORONTO – A Toronto District School Board (TDSB) plan to offer additional help to Somali students is being criticized by community groups and parents because they feel it will stigmatize their children.
The TDSB created a task force in 2012 to address performance concerns regarding students of Somali decent.
A board staff report indicated that 25 per cent of Somali-speaking students had dropped out of school in 2011 compared to just 14 per cent from the general TDSB population.
Statistics also suggest Somali students are 50 per cent more likely to be suspended, have lower standardized test scores and be placed in special education classes.
A list of recommendations released earlier this year suggested developing new teaching strategies, expand homework support and mentorship programs, and provide additional hands-on, interactive and technology-based learning opportunities.
But some argue special help isn’t needed and will further stigmatize their community.
Liibaan Moalin, a father of three children in the TDSB system, started an online petition urging the Ontario premier, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and TDSB Chair Chris Bolton to stop implementing the task force and its recommendations.
“We are parents of Canadian children of Somali descent who find the idea of the proposed TDSB-funded ‘Somali Task Force’ extremely offensive and racist,” the petition writes.
“We believe if such a program is implemented, an entire community that is already part of a marginalized group, will further be stigmatized and segregated from the mainstream Canadian community.”
More than half of the task force is made up of parents who say the action plan has good support among the Somali community.
But despite opposition from some parents and groups, the TDSB subsequently voted to receive the list of recommendation at its trustee meeting in March.
The board has created support programs for specfic demographic groups in the past.
An Africentric Alternative School began operating in 2009 in response to an “achievement gap” affecting students of African descent.
A task force was created three years ago to look at why graduation rates are lower for Portugese-speaking students.