School doors shut on immigrant children, report says

  • July 28, 2010
TCDSB LogoTORONTO - Toronto’s Catholic schools are keeping some children of non-status immigrant families out of the education system, according to a new report.

The July 14 report  by Social Planning Toronto said the Toronto Catholic District School Board was not implementing or enforcing policies that ensure non-status children can go to school.

“Results of this study demonstrate that TCDSB school staff are largely unaware of the rights of non-status students to public education under the Ontario Education Act,” said “Policy Without Practice,” a report by Social Planning Toronto, an advocacy and research group of 150 community organizations including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Section 49 of Ontario’s Education Act states “a person who is otherwise entitled to be admitted to a school and who is less than 18 years of age shall not be refused admission because the person or the person’s parent or guardian is unlawfully in Canada.”

Sima Sahar Zerehi of the Immigration Network said at a news conference to release the report the problem isn’t confined to Toronto Catholic schools, but is a province-wide issue.

“A majority of families without full immigration status have the doors slammed in their faces,” she said, adding there is “overwhelming” anecdotal evidence  from grassroots volunteers who work with non-status families. These families, Zerehi said, have reported facing hardships in having their children enrolled in school.

Lead researcher Raluca Bejan said there are no conclusive numbers of children facing such discrimination because of the difficulty in obtaining information from families who fear reporting they don’t have status in Canada.

The report only studied the Toronto Catholic board because Social Planning Toronto said the board was in the middle of revising its policies for non-status students. A future review is planned after its new policy is in place.

For the study, Bejan called 201 elementary and high schools and posed as an extended family member, asking if a non-status child could be enrolled and which documents would be required for registration. Only 31 of the 201 schools would admit a non-status student while 57 denied admission and 113 didn’t know if a non-status student could register. Of the 31 schools that would admit a student, 19 required immigration documents. Requiring parents and youth to produce documentation to verify status “is contributing to the misunderstanding that only students with status are eligible to attend a public school,” it said.

Some schools also indicated a yearly fee — ranging from $10,000 to $12,000 —  would apply for international students and visitors to Canada.

Angela Gauthier, associate director of academic affairs at the board, is “quite surprised” by the findings and denies non-status students are being barred.

“Our numbers tell us a different story,” Gauthier told The Catholic Register.

Over the last five years, the board has registered 12,059 students who came from another country, with 499 being children without status.

The board will study its policies and practices to ensure there are no barriers to registration, she said. A follow-up with schools will take place in September to “clarify the language of our policies” and ensure that staff are aware of registration procedures. If the report’s findings are true and “if there is discrepancy between protocol and process, we’ll make sure we deal with that,” Gauthier said.

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