TDSB defers vote on controversial aquatics programming cuts at 20 schools

Four students from Brown Junior Public School spoke at a Toronto District School Board committee meeting on Tuesday.  (CBC - image credit)

Four students from Brown Junior Public School spoke at a Toronto District School Board committee meeting on Tuesday. (CBC – image credit)

A Toronto District School Board committee backed away from voting on a controversial cut to aquatics programming at 20 TDSB schools at a meeting Tuesday night.

The TDSB’s finance, budget and enrolment committee was expected to vote on asking the school board to reinstate six aquatics instructors to save swimming programs at eight elementary and 12 secondary public schools.

Instead, it was voted to defer the matter until the board considers its budget at a meeting on Wednesday.

Earlier at its meeting, the committee discussed asking the board to “pause” a reduction in swim programming and add back the six full-time equivalent instructors in all schools with pools in the 2023-2024 school year at a cost of $400,000.

“All kids need to learn how to swim,” Sara Ehrhardt, a trustee for Toronto-Danforth, Ward 15, told the committee.

“If I had my way, there would be a pool in every school and every child would know how to swim. It’s a life-saving skill,” she added.

“It is more important than ever for us at the TDSB to send a strong message around the importance of this programming.”

Shelley Laskin, trustee for Eglinton-Lawrence and Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ward 8, said trustees voted to cut the number of aquatic instructors in schools from 93 to 80 in March on the understanding from TDSB staff that the cut would not impact programming. After the vote, she said the staff realized that the cuts would have to be made.

Laskin said reversing the cut would “redress wrongly.”

“School pools, if they are fully functional, should be fully operational,” said Laskin.

LISTEN | Grade 5 swimming champion and teacher on TDSB aquatic cuts:

Parents presented a petition to the committee, with more than 1,100 signatures, asking for it to recommend that trustees reverse the allocation model for the eight elementary schools and maintain the same level of swim programming for 2023-2024.

Four children from Brown Junior Public School also spoke to the committee.

“Swimming is super important at our school. Kids love it,” Charlotte Walsh, a Grade 5 student, said.

When an email came saying the school’s swimming instructors would be leaving, Walsh said, “We were all so sad.”

“I’m upset. All my friends are upset. All of our teachers are upset. My parents are upset. There is a sad feeling at school and at home.”

Holly Sunstrum, a Grade 3 student, said swimming programs at school were important.

“Our pool is special for us,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have swimming at Brown. I feel very sad for the students who will come after us and that they won’t have the same opportunities to learn how to be safe in the water.”

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