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Toronto district board backs off controversial school reviews Add to ...

The Toronto District School Board voted late Wednesday to not close or make any program changes to a group of schools in the Jane and Finch area.

It was a quiet end to a tumultuous process that saw strong community opposition to any school closings. Parents and residents have raised questions as to why a review of Blacksmith Public School, Gosford Public School, Driftwood Public School, Shoreham Public School and Brookview Middle School was begun in the first place.

It was just over a year ago that the TDSB announced it would form eight committees to review clusters of schools throughout the city, most of which were struggling with low enrolment numbers. The committees, known as accommodation review committees, or ARCs, were charged with determining how to make best use of the schools, whether there should be any boundary changes, program changes, redevelopment or even closings.

The Jane and Finch ARC was the most contentious. The first community meetings involved shouting, tears and insults, with some members of the community accusing the TDSB of targeting their community because they're poor.

Trustee Stephnie Payne, whose ward includes the affected schools, cautioned her colleagues against ignoring the community's wishes.

"You are going to have a war on your hands if you do anything other than what the committee recommended," she said.

At a community meeting in January, Daryl Sage, the TDSB's strategy and planning director, told residents that the staff would recommend that no schools be closed because of a future development near York University, where a subway line will soon reach. He said this meant the area's five elementary schools could be needed to accommodate growth.

Trustee Irene Atkinson, however, said she had received complaints from residents about the recommendation that no schools close, in light of the fact that all but one of the schools is operating well below capacity.

"We are bereft of space and desperately need money," she said.

Late Wednesday evening, the trustees were debating a motion to sell West Toronto Collegiate Institute, near College Street and Lansdowne Avenue, which closed its doors last September despite protests from the community.

Toronto's French public school board has made an offer of $20.5-million for the property with a pledge to let the TDSB lease the third floor for a continuing education program.

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