Good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Ayan Yusuf. I am a community worker. I am a single mother of four children all born in Canada. My two oldest boys are enrolled in postsecondary education. My daughter is in grade 10 at York Memorial Collegiate and my youngest is in grade three. I’ve lived in Canada for twenty-four years.
First I’d like to tell you a story. One day when my second son was fifteen and in grade 10 at Runneymede Collegiate, he was hauled out of his gym class, handcuffed, shoved into a police car and taken to 11 Division. I got a call at work from a detective telling me my son was being held at the station. The school never called me.
I rushed to the police station to learn my son was being fingerprinted and photographed and that the police wanted to ask him some questions. I demanded to see my son and told the police he was not going to tell them anything and that unless they were going to charge him formally they had to release him at once. I waited at the station for hours until finally at five o’clock he was released. No charges were laid.
To make a long story short, I was really angry with my son’s school. They never informed me they’d called for the police. And as I later learned, the vice principal who called the police had not spoken to my son at all or seriously questioned the girls who had come to him with a story. I took the incident to the Human Rights Commission and won. It was a two year battle. In the meantime, my son had to change schools. But the incident had traumatized him. Formerly an excellent student, his grades fell quickly and he was detached and disinterested in his school work. His missed his old friends and became very depressed. It was all I could do to get him to graduate.
The really sad side of this story is that it’s not unusual. Lots of Somali speaking families have had one of their children arrested or suspended- sometimes justifiably but often not. As I understand from the TDSB’s own statistics, in 2006, 43 % of all Somali speaking students were suspended at least once during their time at the TDSB. Compare that with 22% for the rest of the student body. Why are our kids punished twice as often as other kids?
Our families are experiencing a crisis in the schools. We have known this for years and tried to reach out to the TDSB. The school system has been too slow to respond. Our dropout rate is twice that of the overall student average and our graduation rate 15% lower. For our sons that dropout rate is especially dismal- 33%. Our children- especially our boys- are streamed into applied programs in secondary school at a higher rate than the rest of the school population. By middle school, our kids make up a disproportionate number of all the kids enrolled in Special Education programs. Almost none of our kids is ever selected for the gifted program.
We are following the work of the Somali taskforce closely but we are doubtful for its outcome. The May
2013 deadline for its report is now postponed until Sept. At this rate we won’t see any implementation of any recommendations before Sept. 2014. So far we’re unimpressed with the taskforce’s approach to public consultation. Their meetings are highly controlled and parents who attended them felt alienated by the Board’s way of structuring the focus groups, keeping the discussion within parameters decided by the facilitators.
Of further concern is what has been happening to the Learning Opportunity Grants. From reports in the Star and the Globe and Mail, our community has learned that millions of dollars that should have gone to support children in schools located in low income communities has been spent elsewhere. Most of our children attend schools in communities identified as needy. These funds were meant for desperately needed extra staff, nutrition and afterschool programs, and homework clubs our kids need and that their parents have wanted for years. Our families cannot fundraise for their schools. How many tragic outcomes could have been avoided? How much of this crisis could have been averted if the proper supports had been in place? By diverting substantial sums from poor children to keep the corporation afloat, the TDSB has to accept much of the blame for our children’s failure to succeed at school.