Ottawa high school students to cut class to protest Ford education policies
Students in some Ottawa high schools plan to walk out of class on Thursday as part of a provincewide protest against education policies announced by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government.
The hour-long protest could involve tens of thousands of Ontario students.
Organizers said students at more than 600 schools have registered their interest, including 34 schools in Ottawa, although it’s difficult to know how widespread the protest will be.
On the list of things students are upset about: an increase in the average class sizes for students in Grades 4 to 12, mandatory online courses for high schoolers, a ban on cellphones in class except for instructional purposes, various cuts to education funding they fear would threaten other educational workers and budgets for supplies such as textbooks, and changes to OSAP funding.
“It seems as though everything that sets Ontario apart and is valuable in our education is being taken away,” said Natalie Moore, a student at Listowel District Secondary School in southwestern Ontario, who came up with the idea for the walkout. “We know it’s important to balance the books, but you don’t cut at the cost of a world-class education that students get in Ontario.”
Moore said she was shocked when she heard the latest changes to education announced by the Doug Ford government in March, including an increase in the average high-school class size to 28 from 22 students.
She wrote to her MPP, then mulled other options.
“What if we started a walkout?”
Moore turned to Instagram, created the handle @studentssayno, designed a poster, posted it, and watched in astonishment as her idea “just caught on like wildfire.”
She didn’t expect students at hundreds of schools to respond by pledging to organize walkouts.
“Oh gosh, no. It took over very quickly. It was shocking to me.”
Immaculata High School student Mackenzie Cubid, 16, said she fears funding cuts will hurt specialty programs such as English as a second language, which she needed when she arrived from the Philippines three years ago.
Larger classes will mean teachers have less time to help students who have learning disabilities and other needs, she said.
She wasn’t sure how many students at Immaculata will participate, saying some might fear they could get in trouble. “We have the right to peacefully protest,” said Cubid. “It’s in the charter (of Rights and Freedoms.)”
Hillcrest high school student Diane Hatheway, 15, said she is concerned that programs with smaller enrolments, such as many in the arts, will be sacrificed as boards cut teaching positions and juggle larger average class sizes.
“That’s awful for students like me,” said Hatheway, who plays the cello and took a strings course last semester.
She hopes the protest will make a difference. “If enough schools do this, someone higher up (in government) will see it and maybe reconsider.
“These decisions don’t affect them. They affect us.”
Nikolas Prystupa-Maule, a 17-year-old student at Bell High School, said the Instagram post inspired him to “step up” and organize a walkout. He’s in a chat group with organizers at 22 Ottawa schools, he said.
Prystupa-Maule said he was most concerned about plans to require high school students to take four of their 30 credits online. “A lot of people don’t have computers at home, or in rural areas they don’t have internet.” The province has not announced details about who would teach the courses or where they would be taken.
“I know at my school there aren’t enough computers for everybody, so I just don’t know how that would work,” he said.
Prystupa-Maule took an online course last semester and said it was difficult. “It’s hard when there’s no teacher to talk to, to explain things. You’re just reading an online textbook and answering questions.” A teacher was available by email, but the reply was not immediate, he said. Teachers who see students in person are more likely to notice if they are struggling, either with schoolwork or other problems, he said.
Walkout organizers have also used Instagram to post a petition — it had nearly 50,000 signatures as of Tuesday — and distribute guides for both protesters and teachers.
At Ottawa’s English-language public and Catholic school boards, students who walk out will be recorded as absent, and their parents notified, said spokespeople.
At the French Catholic school board, parents of students who join the protest must justify the absence with the principal, said a spokesperson.