Students across the province are planning to walk out of class Thursday to protest the Ford government’s proposed changes to public education.
Organizers expect students from more than 700 elementary and secondary schools to leave class at 1:15 p.m. as part of the student-led action dubbed #StudentsSayNo.
The protest comes after recent announcements by the Progressive Conservatives, including mandatory e-learning for high school students, a ban on cell phones in classrooms unless used for educational purposes and increased class sizes from Grades 4 to 12, which would result in the elimination of teaching jobs.
“Students have started a movement with a very clear message: Hands off our education,” said organizer Rayne Fisher-Quann in a statement.
“Students understand the importance of fiscal responsibility, they understand the importance of balancing the budget, but most importantly they also know that our world-class education system should never be a victim of cuts,” said the Grade 12 student from William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in North York.
“I need to remind the teachers and our school boards that schools are a place of learning and we owe it to our parents to ensure that students are safe and they’re learning at school every day,” she said.
Thompson went on to say that students had the opportunity to weigh in on education issues when the province last fall launched an extensive public consultation process that resulted in 72,000 submissions.
Taylor Dallin, a student trustee with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said “it’s crucial” to let the government know that students are opposed to the changes.
“These changes will have a detrimental and widespread impact on the students of Ontario should they be put in place,’ said the Grade 11 student at Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts, who is leading the walkout there.
She said it’s important that students “make a statement about our beliefs because staying silent at a crucial time like this can be extremely dangerous.”
Those comments were echoed, in part, by eleventh grader Senaida Ng, who is organizing the protest at Havergal College, an all-girls’ private school in Toronto.
“We shouldn’t be sitting in silence,” said Ng, adding some changes also impact private schools, such as mandatory online courses.
“We are not okay with (the government) implementing four mandatory e-learning courses because every student learns differently and many students require the attention of face-to-face contact in order to learn well.”
The government’s announcement last month, included boosting average high school classes from 22 to 28 students. Between Grades 4-8, there will be an increase of one student per class to an average of 24.5.
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74