Toronto students take to the streets to protest proposed program changes

Toronto students protests proposed TDSB program changes on May 16, 2022.

From admission criteria to areas of specialization – it's a major overhaul of the educational programs offered by the Toronto District School Board.

The goal of the policy change is to remove barriers to access and improve the quality of the programs, but many students fear it will do exactly the opposite.

"The TDSB is doing a whole overhaul of the specialized arts programs in an attempt to make it more equitable," said James Knechtel, a Grade 11 film major in the Claude Watson arts program at Earl Haig Secondary School. "But in reality, they're worsening the quality of education and it's not improving the equity at all."

The planned changes include how students will be evaluated for admission, eliminating auditions, and instead, focusing on a student's demonstrated interest or passion in a field of study.

"Pieces of paper don't show passion," Cali Martin told CTV News Toronto. The Grade 11 dance major said, "From that, you get kids that are just joining the program because why not and kids who don't truly care about the arts."

There are also changes being proposed to the programs themselves, including a more general approach to arts education when students first enter the program and changes to where students can apply.

"You're only able to apply to one school in your area," said Knechtel. "And if there's a school in your area then you're not allowed to go anywhere else, which is just perpetuating inequity and keeping people in their area."

Knechtel was among hundreds of students who walked out of class on Monday afternoon, and held a loud protest outside the TDSB head office on Yonge Street. The students were calling on the board to reconsider the proposed changes.

"We want them to invest in improving the quality of arts education in middle and elementary schools across the city and especially focus on parts of the city that need it more. We totally acknowledge that there's a need for equity but this is not going to do it," Knechtel said.

"People are starting from different places" said Craft-Holloway. "We're all trying to get to the same finish line, we're all starting from different places so giving everyone the same opportunity the same chance is definitely not the right way to do this."

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, the school board said: " The TDSB offers nearly 40 specialized schools and programs. While these specialized programs have provided outstanding opportunities for some students, barriers to access including admission processes, entrance criteria and geography, have limited these opportunities for a significant number of students. Through this new policy, all students will have greater access to these programs - a number of which already have an open admissions process.”

The new policy will go before trustees at their meeting on May 25.

Many students, like Craft-Holloway worry that if the changes are approved, they will in fact do the opposite of what they're intended.

"We definitely want to acknowledge that there is a lot that we need to change and there is a lot that we need to fix in the TDSB but this is taking away opportunities for people, not making more."