#TorontoIsFailingMe: My kid’s school is a disgrace

#TorontoIsFailingMe: My kid’s school is a disgrace

Toronto’s inner suburbs have become shorthand for crumbling postwar apartment blocks, underfunded schools or gang warfare. They’re among the neighbourhoods with the lowest incomes in the city, the longest trek to a TTC stop, and the highest concentration of immigrants and visible minorities. This month, we’re sharing stories from Torontonians who live in the inner suburbs, told in their own words. Some are shocking, some tragic, some hopeful. Together, they convey an urgent truth: Toronto is failing too many of its citizens. Have a story of your own? Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtag #TorontoIsFailingMe to tell us.
#TorontoIsFailingMe: My kid's school is a disgrace Nayamath and Amal Syed at Secord Elementary (Image: Eamon Mac Mahon)

Nayamath Syed, 38
East York

My wife and I are originally from India, but spent more than a decade living in Abu Dhabi, where I worked as a computer analyst. Three years ago, when our daughter, Amal, was four, we decided we wanted to give her a first-class education. I quit my job and we moved to Canada in May 2011.

Upon our arrival, I quickly secured a position with an engineering firm, ­working as a global IT analyst. My family settled in East York, where we found an affordable two-bedroom unit in an apartment complex at Main and Danforth. We’ve lived there ever since—the bulk of our neighbours are Indian and Pakistani, but we also live alongside Filipinos, Koreans, Jamaicans and Ukrainians.

Our first autumn in Toronto, Amal started senior kindergarten at ­Secord Elementary School near Danforth and Main, which consists of a century-old main building and a convoy of 14 ­portables connected by hallways. The portables were built two decades ago as a temporary solution to student overflow, but the school has never received the funding to replace them. Over the years, these makeshift buildings have slowly deteriorated—we’ve had raccoon infestations, falling ceiling tiles and water damage. Some parents believe the water is contaminated, and that their kids have developed rashes after drinking from the fountains. Between growing classroom sizes and the arrival of full-day kindergarten in 2014, more and more kids have been forced into the portables.

For Amal’s first two years at Secord, her classes were held in the main building, but in September, she started Grade 2 in the portables. I couldn’t believe the ­conditions: peeling linoleum, splotchy brown water stains, dripping ceilings and tears in the roof. One of the parents even found patches of black mould. Amal was sick for several days in the first month alone—I can’t help but wonder if the conditions had something to do with that.

When we complained to the TDSB, our trustee told us they couldn’t get funding from the ministry to fix the damage, much less create a new building for the students. The ministry, in turn, said it was the TDSB that hadn’t presented a case for repairs. It’s a never-ending circle of blame. It doesn’t help that much of East York is populated by low-income and immigrant families. For all the talk of “priority neighbourhoods,” we’re obviously not a priority for them.

At the end of October, the parents’ council led a walkout—30 students, including my seven-year-old daughter, stood up at 10 a.m. and left school for the day to protest the decaying facilities. I watched proudly as Amal held up signs and fought for her education. The TDSB finally agreed to a full roof repair on the portables—­construction is currently underway. But that isn’t enough: Amal deserves a brick-and-mortar ­classroom where she can learn in a safe, healthy environment. That’s why we brought her here.

—as told to Emily Landau