More than 100 Peterborough high school students walked out of class on Thursday to protest changes to education by the Ontario government.
They marched and held a protest outside of Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith’s office on Water Street in the city’s north end.
Smith was in Toronto at the Ontario Legislature at the time of the afternoon rally.
It was part of a larger province-wide protest that saw tens of thousands of students walk out.
“It’s completely unfair,” said Jaidan Charters, a grade 11 student at Adam Scott Collegiate Vocational Institute. “There are so amazing teachers for students and they will be cutting their jobs.”
“Our classrooms are overcrowded as-is,” said Grace Sanderson, a grade 12 student at Adam Scott. “This won’t benefit students at all. It doesn’t make sense why would want to overcrowd this further. Our teachers do so much for us, so I want to stand here for them.”
Both local school boards sent messages home to parents on Wednesday advising of the walkout.
“This is not a school-sponsored event,” said Galen Eagle, spokesperson for the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board. “We expect students to be in class, but we do respect their right to peacefully protest. Those that do protest, by leaving school property, will be marked absent. There will be no discipline.”
“Students (who take part in the protest) would not be disciplined, but they will be marked absent from class,” said Greg Kidd, spokesperson for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.
The walkout comes a day after the public board released its staffing list for its secondary schools. The cuts will lead to 55 fewer teachers in those schools next year. Some of those losses are through attrition.
“They’re going to have larger class sizes and 300 fewer courses will be offered in KPR next year,” said Dave Warda, president of Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 14. “We’re very concerned about the students who are not academic to get the one-on-one treatment from teachers. We’re worried about dropout rates and kids giving up before they have an opportunity to learn.”
“We’re just figuring out what the cuts meant to our local schools now. It’s not as devastating as secondary for class sizes. It will mean less resources in our schools,” said David Berger, first VP of the KPR ETFO. “We have a slew of kids with autism who need proper supports, which they won’t get. We’re worried about cuts to special education funding. There will be a lot of implications for us next year.”
“KPR has a declining enrolment,” said Smith by phone from Queen’s Park late Thursday. “The reality is we don’t have as many kids. That’s the reality. The KPR is projecting 100 less high school students. Every year, at the end of March, KPR issues layoff notices.
“It’s very disingenuous to say this is Doug Ford’s fault. The KPR is getting smaller. We’re having less kids.”
Local teachers will join a large rally planned for Saturday at Queen’s Park.
“It’s unfortunate that the teachers’ union is fuelling this,” added Smith. “We should be focusing on the education for the kids.
“Let’s take a step back and wait until April 11 when the budget is released and that’s when we will know the true facts.”