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Gender-based schools at TDSB still possible this fall Add to ...

A package of boutique schools could still open as early as next fall, despite a heated Toronto District School Board meeting last week that left its fate uncertain.

Trustees will debate whether or not to recommend giving the schools the go-ahead at a committee meeting this Wednesday. The package includes all-boys, all-girls, fitness and choir academies, which would be located in under-utilized schools.

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At the board meeting last week, trustees spent four hours debating the schools, but the only action they could agree on was to rename them 'Elementary Alternative Learning Options' instead of 'Programs of Choice.'

Though most trustees expressed concern that after more than a year of debate, the board had over-analyzed the issue, many still felt they needed more information. The school proposal was referred back to staff, who were asked to bolster their report with more details on feasibility and a timeline of how the schools could be introduced.

That report was delivered to trustees Friday and has since been the subject of much discussion.

"If I'm going to vote to spend $500,000 in resources, I need to understand why we need [these schools]rdquo; said Shelley Laskin, one of several trustees who have raised concerns about a lack of detail in the report.

The idea for the schools was first introduced in the fall of 2009, when education director Chris Spence suggested the board open an all-boys school to help close the achievement gap. Trustees asked for a broader strategy that would reach more students and that winter, Dr. Spence introduced the package of boutique schools.

"The director has a clear vision and I don't necessarily think that the board is in lockstep with that vision," said Ms. Laskin.

Arts and sports-focused schools already exist within the TDSB, and the choir and fitness academies have been less controversial. The gender-based programs have been more contentious, and the staff's report states that research is inconclusive regarding whether or not single-gender environments are beneficial to student learning.

Trustees seemed poised last week to give the programs the go-ahead, but became concerned that Program Area Review Teams (PARTs) should review the impact on candidate schools. The report prepared by staff leaves room for PARTs and for the possibility that the programs could open in the fall of 2011 or 2012.

The board has become caught up in debating the process instead of the merits of the programs, according to trustee Michael Coteau.

"Process is important, but when programs are good for kids then we need to move forward with them," he said.

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