Students across Ontario are set to walk out of public schools Thursday afternoon to protest cuts to education.
The protest comes after Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced a slew of changes to her ministry’s portfolio, including a revamped health and physical education curriculum, a classroom cellphone ban and an increase in high school class sizes.
Anika Munir, a Grade 12 student at East York Collegiate Institute in Toronto, believes the walkout will send a strong message to Premier Doug Ford.
The Toronto District School Board has sent a letter to parents notifying them of the walkout. It reads, in part: “To be clear, this is not a TDSB-sanctioned event nor are we encouraging students to take part, however we wanted you to be aware of what is being planned. For those students who do not participate, some of our teachers will remain in classes to provide supervision and instruction/remediation where possible.”
The letter continues: “School administration and other staff will be present to ensure that students are safe throughout the demonstration. We have also contacted Toronto police so that they are aware.”
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Thompson told reporters Wednesday at Queen’s Park that a walkout is not the right forum to voice concerns about the changes.
“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 are learning at school every day,” the education minister said.
Thompson also reiterated the province’s education consultation process in which she says students had the opportunity to make their voices heard.
“We have landed in a really good place when it comes to health and physical education, financial literacy, math — the list just goes on and on. That shows that done in a constructive way, in a forum facilitated properly through the ministry, people can really have an impact,” she added.
WATCH: Global News coverage of Ontario education changes
Joseph Ferenbok, whose child is in Grade 3, believes students like his son are being politicized.
“Kids, education, those are values that are political — I don’t see a problem to stand up for education and have students actually take action to support things that are important for them,” he said.
NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath wouldn’t directly comment on whether or not she feels students are being used as political leverage but said: “Students are standing up for their education. I think it’s shameful that they have to. I think it’s troubling that we have a government, a conservative government in this province, once again, who thinks it’s OK to whittle away our world-class public education system, and that’s what they are doing.”
A Toronto public school teacher who was not authorized to speak publicly told Global News in an interview: “In my school, parents have approached me about the walkout and have organized amongst themselves. Education is an agent of social change. Education in and of itself is political because it’s how we achieve social change and social justice so I support the parents and students in their decision.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a joint statement was released by five unions that make up the largest representatives of educators in Ontario. The five signatories include the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), the Canadian Union of Public Employees — Ontario (CUPE), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).
The statement reads, in part: “Teachers and education workers in Ontario have formed a common front to defend a strong, publicly funded education system that is of high quality and accessible to all.”
The unions also say they are urging the government to rethink proposed changes to education.
“The cuts being made to the education budget will have devastating effects on student well-being and achievement,” the statement continued. It also specifically mentioned class sizes, the introduction of mandatory e-learning and cuts to school programs and student supports.