The province of Ontario will save $851 million by losing 3,475 full-time teaching positions over the next four years, according to an education ministry memo.
The move to phase out the positions comes as the Doug Ford government faces increased criticism on cuts to education, including increasing high school class sizes and instituting mandatory e-learning courses.
Ontario NDP education critic Marit Stiles said school boards have warned that the government’s deep cuts to education are going to take thousands of teachers out of schools.
“Cramming more students into every classroom and having fewer adults in every school is going to hurt kids,” Stiles said in a statement.
“By taking away thousands of teachers, Ford is taking away one-on-one help when students need it. He’s taking away courses like band, technology and trades classes. And he’s taking away opportunity — and Ontario’s students deserve more opportunity, not less.”
Some boards have also written to the education minister saying the move will mean they can offer fewer elective courses, such as those in the arts and skilled trades.
WATCH: Bump in classroom size could mean cuts to Toronto teachers
The government plans to increase average high-school class sizes from 22 to 28 students. Average class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 will increase more modestly from an average of 23 students per class to 24. Class sizes for kindergarten through Grade 3 are not changing.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson has said there will be no “involuntary job losses” as a result of the plan, and that Ontario high schools currently have one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios in the country.
Thousands of high-school students walked out of class on Thursday to protest the changes to Ontario’s education system.
One student who helped organize Thursday’s walkout said the government’s moves have sparked a “wildfire” of political activism among the province’s youth.
“I think they’re angry, they’re hurt, and they’re ready to rise up,” Frank Hong, a Grade 12 student at Toronto’s Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, said of his peers.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said in a statement on Friday that the minister is “tone deaf” to the pleas of students.
“This Minister and her government are the ones using students as a smokescreen. They never asked students about e-learning in their consultations, or about reductions of classroom teachers or about any of the other changes they propose,” Bischof said.
“Students have a vested interest in their education and are expressing their concerns. The Minister should sit down and listen to their issues instead of dictating what she thinks is best for the next generation of Ontarians.”
During an interview with the John Oakley Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto on Thursday, Ford linked the province-wide student protest over education reform to the influence of teachers’ union “thugs.”
“This isn’t about class sizes, gentlemen,” he told a panel of guests on the show.
“This is strictly from the union thugs, as I call them, the teachers’ union, one of the most powerful unions in the entire country. There’s finally a government with a backbone that wants our kids to start learning math.”
A group comprised of five unions representing workers in school boards across Ontario have organized a rally on the front lawn of Queen’s Park for Saturday at 2 p.m.
“The cuts being made to the education budget will have devastating effects on student well-being and achievement,” the group said in a media release.
— With a file from Travis Dhanraj, Kerri Breen, Kamil Karamali and The Canadian Press