Former Olympian opposes policy to close arts stream

Bill Crothers, a former Olympic athlete and York Region trustee chair, has criticized the school board for considering a policy that would close the exclusive arts stream at Baythorn Public School.

Crothers, who served as a York Region trustee for 22 years and the trustee chair for 15 years, said Policy 316 does not make sense.

“The policy is contradictory,” Crothers explained. “It’s a red herring.… To me, the logical thing is to replicate the program.”

The exclusive arts stream at Baythorn has been at the centre of a battle between parents and trustees. Trustees claim Policy 316 was drafted to promote equity and consistency among all students — something the exclusive audition process did not uphold. But parents argue that the 25-year-old program promotes their kids’ learning and appreciation of drama, dance, music and visual arts.

In an open letter to trustees, Crothers challenged their proposal to scrap the exclusive program.

“One of the negatives that first impacted the Toronto Trustee Board was the belief, and the practice, by the elected trustees that they knew more about education than their senior staff .… The most recent example is the initiative by the [York Region trustees] to terminate the elementary arts program at Baythorn in Thornhill,” Crothers wrote in the letter.

Crothers added that while he is no longer directly involved with the school board, the policy prompted him to take action.

“The board believes that all students should have the right to learning environments in which they feel motivated, accepted, inspired and valued,” said York Region’s current trustee chair, Anna DeBartolo.

Parents who were at a board meeting on Feb. 21 said they were denied the right to speak, on the grounds that the trustees had already heard their concerns. “They’ve barred all concerned citizens from actually providing input in this lovely democratic process,” said Mitchell Levine, whose daughter is enrolled in the arts stream at Baythorn.

DeBartolo has maintained that she continues to respond to comments from parents.

“There is no reason why all Baythorn students could not continue to enjoy a vibrant arts program within its new context as a community school,” she said.

But Levine disagrees and said, “If this policy is passed, it does away with all specialty programs, any unique teaching methodology,” Levine said. “Some don’t learn in a traditional classroom setting.”

The policy decision is expected in March or early April.

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