WATCH ABOVE: Parents and teachers formed human chains around their local schools to protest ongoing provincial budget cuts to public education. Global’s Kelly Greig reports.
MONTREAL – It’s an official day of protest for 200 schools across Quebec.
Students across Montreal formed human chains around their schools as a symbolic gesture to protest the $360 million cuts in the province’s education program.
Teachers insisted the cuts reduce resources for special needs students.
At Willingdon Elementary School in NDG, physical education teacher Lara Belinsky is already feeling the crunch.
“I had my grade sixes come in and there were 31 students in the class. We had the bare minimum of seats,” she said.
“My kindergarten class is 24, which is doable but it is quite high.”
Teachers insist the cuts will seriously hurt student learning.
That includes the impact of having larger class sizes, meaning less individual attention for children, as well as the removal of vital support for special needs students.
Sixth grade student Molly was at the protest carrying a handmade sign with “Cuts Hurt Kids” written in black and red.
“They told us that they were going to be cutting a lot of special programs that I know are dear to a lot of students,” Molly told Global News.
Education Minister François Blais denounced the protests on Tuesday, saying children shouldn’t be mixed up in politics that they don’t understand.
“I think parents need to be reassured by that message. It’s possible to express dissent in a democracy, but people must act in a respectful manner.”
Amid the protests, teachers are also battling the government over stalled contract talks.
They’ve threatened to start work-to-rule, which means they won’t take on any extra-curricular activities this school year.
“Our cross country run is in October. That’s off the table because of work-to-rule pressure tactics,” said Belinsky.
“We also participate in the Terry Fox fundraising and that has to change because it’s a special activity.”
The English Montreal School Board insisted parents have no need to fear work-to-rule affecting their children’s education.
“Keep in mind that our teachers will have pressure tactics,” said Angela Mancini, English Montreal School Board chairperson.
“I trust our teachers first and foremost will be taken care of. Parents can be reassured by the professionalism of teachers.”
While it’s the first week back to school for the students, it could be the first of many weeks of protest for their parents and teachers.