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John Malloy, head of the TDSB.

GLENN LOWSON/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board has dropped a proposal to phase out specialized schools after an outcry from parents and students.

Earlier this month, a task force charged with studying how to distribute resources more equitably across the city proposed that every cluster of schools offer a variety of specialty programs and that, once such a system was in place, the TDSB look at shutting down specialized schools, including ones focused on the arts and technology.

Parents and students said they were concerned that a move to create a level playing field would also see students lose out on the opportunities that specialized schools offer.

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In a statement on Tuesday, TDSB director John Malloy said he did not believe the school district had any intention of closing specialized schools.

"We have clarified the recommendation by removing the reference to phasing out specialized schools and will, in the revised document, focus on improving access to them," Mr. Malloy said.

He added that parents had also expressed concern that specialized programs, including the International Baccalaureate, would be phased out, but that was not part of the task force's recommendations and the programs will continue.

"What is clear is that the TDSB needs to find ways to expand the opportunities that these schools and programs offer," Mr. Malloy said. "Changes need to happen to ensure each and every student can achieve high academic achievement and success in school."

Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman, a graduate of Claude Watson School for the Arts and the Claude Watson Arts Program, housed in Earl Haig Secondary School, said he was pleased the TDSB had decided not to phase out his former school. "It's really important and really crucial for a lot of students," he said.

Mr. Helman, who graduated high school in 2013, described being accepted into the arts school as one of the "best moments of my life." He said that being able to express himself in an arts-focused school allowed him to focus on other subjects, such as math and science.

"I think the answer that I'm looking for is how the TDSB is going to expand these programs and make them more accessible," he said.

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The TDSB's Enhancing Equity Task Force is looking at how to distribute resources more equitably so students who live in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods and cannot travel across the city are still able to attend enriched programs.

"The task force recognizes that specialized schools and programs … while benefiting certain populations, have inadvertently resulted in greater competition and disparities between schools," its report stated. "In many cases, these schools and programs have served to limit enriched learning opportunities for students, especially those from the most marginalized communities."

The task force, which includes trustees, is speaking with parents and community groups to figure out how to mitigate or remove social and economic barriers in schools so students can focus on learning.

In Ontario and elsewhere, a two-tiered public-education system has been the subject of much debate. Although the TDSB provides special grants to schools in disadvantaged communities, it has been unable to match the hundreds of thousands of dollars that schools in the richest neighbourhoods collect through fundraising.

A report is expected to be presented to trustees in December.

Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, says Canada has to address systemic racism, Indigenous rights and fundamental needs like water, health care and safety, so Indigenous youth have the same chance of success in this country
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