Some staff members at west-end Toronto high school refuse to work after fight with students

George Harvey Collegiate Institute was recently renamed York Memorial Collegiate after the merger of the two schools.  (Christopher Langenzarde/CBC - image credit)
George Harvey Collegiate Institute was recently renamed York Memorial Collegiate after the merger of the two schools. (Christopher Langenzarde/CBC - image credit)

Some staff at a west-end Toronto high school are refusing to work due to what they're calling unsafe work conditions, including allegations of assault, threats and disorganization within the school.

Staff say the problems began at the old campus of George Harvey Collegiate Institute at the beginning of the school year when hundreds of students from York Memorial Collegiate Institute were moved there following the devastating fire at their school in 2019.

Usha KelleyMaharaj, a science teacher, said the 13 staff members have refused to work following a fight last week involving dozens of students and some teachers at the school, located on Keele Street south of Eglinton Avenue West.

"Some of those teachers were harmed in the process," said KelleyMaharaj, who spoke outside the school Wednesday although she is not one of the staff members refusing to work.

"We are scared and angry," she said, adding that the anger is "building and bubbling."

Christopher Langenzarde/CBC
Christopher Langenzarde/CBC

After the fire at York Memorial, located on Keele Street north of Rogers Road, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) transferred the students directly to George Harvey, then moved them to their own building at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy, located farther west on Royal York Road south of Lawrence Avenue West.

KelleyMaharaj says she believes the issues have stemmed from the TDSB's decision last year to return the students to George Harvey this September, merge the two schools and rename it York Memorial Collegiate

"We were willing to merge but the merger was rushed," said KelleyMaharaj, adding that it has "resulted in a situation where things have spiraled out of control."

She said the board promised to renovate George Harvey to ensure the facility was in order before the merger. However, she said, the renovations are incomplete and the board replaced all the administrators with a new team that was unfamiliar with the students.

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press
Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The school sent out an email to parents on Tuesday.

"In this particular situation, there were concerns about school safety. These concerns were discussed yesterday. Discussion continues today and tomorrow. The school is doing it's best to arrange for coverage of classes by other staff members and administrators," the email reads.

"All students remain safe."

TDSB says it's 'working diligently' to address concerns

The TDSB said it has an occupational health and safety team on the site and has added an extra hall monitor to the school. The board said there are some unresolved issues with the facility but it is "working diligently to address those concerns."

TDSB superintendent Kwame Lennon said during an interview in front of the school Wednesday that the board is listening to the concerns of teachers.

He said stable leadership has been an issue at the school but the board has secured a retired principal to fill the job.

York Memorial Students told CBC Toronto last year they felt more comfortable at Scarlett Heights and didn't want to return to George Harvey, which they see as a rival school.

When asked why students couldn't stay at Scarlett Heights, the TDSB said the George Harvey campus was underutilized and was a better fit as it was in the same neighbourhood.

"We wanted to bring York Memorial back into the community in which it belonged," said Lennon.

However, the board voted last June to declare Scarlett Heights a surplus school, meaning it does not have a long-term use for it. The TDSB held a community meeting last May to get feedback on a proposal to sell the school.

Markus de Domenico, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) trustee for Ward 2, says the TCDSB would be interested in buying Scarlett Heights, even though it isn't yet officially for sale.

"If we determine that the property is suitable for us we will most certainly make an offer on it," said de Domenico.

"We are excited about the potential of this."

Teachers union says it supports refusal to work

Michelle Teixeira, the president of the Toronto Teachers Bargaining Unit of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said she is aware there are a number of work refusals taking place.

"We are supporting our members through those work refusals," Teixeira told CBC News.

KelleyMaharaj said students are telling her they feel the disruption and violence is compromising their academic careers.

"They are angry," she said.

"They begged and pleaded for the board to do this merger the right way and they feel the adults in the situation ignored the students and the students are paying the price."