John Fisher students can choose new school — but might lose French immersion

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John Fisher students can choose new school — but might lose French immersion

Students at a midtown elementary school about to see a 35-storey condo go up next door can enrol elsewhere — but it could mean abandoning their studies in French immersion.

There's no guarantee that any of the roughly 500 students at John Fisher Public School would be placed in another French class.

In fact, parents learned Wednesday that while they relocate their kids because of the construction, they could be moved to virtually any school within the Toronto District School Board.

Parents of the elementary students have raised concerns about how the dust, noise and vibration during construction will affect their children's health and their ability to focus.

'Save our school'

Dozens of parents showed up at a board meeting Wednesday, carrying signs and filling the hallway with the echo of "Save our school."

There's the possibility that the school at 40 Erskine Ave. will remain open during construction. It's unclear exactly when the development will break ground.

Taylor Roberts was one of many parents who told CBC Toronto they had specifically moved to the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood in order to send their children to John Fisher.

Roberts said he had planned for his son's enrolment since before was born; the boy will graduate from Grade 4 this spring.

"The investments families have made are just huge," he said. "There's a gigantic public investment in this school and this neighbourhood — and it far exceeds any private investment that any private developer has made."

The parents' concerns, however, extend beyond the building period. Roberts noted that the project's traffic impact assessment was conducted on a holiday, and wouldn't have grasped the consequences of having so many new vehicles in the neighbourhood.

"You're going to have dozens of cars rushing out of this blind driveway as all the children are running to get to school."

City opposed condo tower: Tory

Mayor John Tory promised earlier this month that he would do everything in his power to protect the health and safety of students while construction was ongoing next door.

The mayor said the city opposed the development, but it was forced on it by the Ontario Municipal Board.

"I promise residents that this development will be held to the very highest standards when it comes to the health and safety of the children and the well-being of the neighbourhood and local families," Tory said in a statement.

Pam Winrow de Barrios plans to hold the city to that promise. She said she has no intention of moving her daughter to another school.

"We believe that the French connection program is going to give her a leg up in our bilingual country and to risk taking that away is just atrocious," she said. "I believe that the only thing we can do is make the school safe and keep our children there."

All the assembled students had much the same message as Winrow de Barrios. None wanted to move schools.

"If we go to the English stream, we can't go back," Grade 5 student Gwennie Chasson said. "Five years of my life were dedicated to French and only now … did I learn how important it is."

The TDSB is still waiting on a report to see if the school can safely stay open during construction. If not, the entire student population could be moved to Vaughan Road Academy, which had been expected to close in June.