Student Walkouts Planned Across Ontario Today

Ontario high school students plan to make their voices heard today about the provincial government’s changes to the education system.

Student walkouts are planned across the province, including here in Renfrew County, to protest cuts, increases to class sizes and other changes.

In Pembroke, Bishop Smith Catholic High School students have organized both an inside assembly then a walkout.

Administrators told parents they have been working with senior students and will be supervising the assembly. 

They’ve also alerted the OPP to ensure safety is a priority outside.

The school boards are not sanctioning the walkouts but school officials say they value the students voices and their opinions, and their priority is the students’ learning and well-being.

A news release from a group billed as "March for our Education" says the demonstration today is expected to be the largest-ever school walkout in Canadian history.

The group says an estimated 200,000+ students at 700 secondary and elementary schools across the province will participate.

They've also organized on social media, citing the hashtag #StudentsSayNo in support of the walkout, to protest "Ford Government’s massive funding cuts to Ontario’s education system".

"These changes and cuts include mandatory e-Learning courses for all students, major cuts to the Ontario Autism Program, banning of cell phones and job losses of a projected 5844 teachers province-wide, causing average class sizes to increase drastically to the detriment of all students", noted the release.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson commented on the issue.

 Thompson said she wanted to remind teachers and boards that schools are a place of learning, ``not for pushing ideologies and nonsense, and fearmongering.''

``I really appreciate everybody's voice if it's presented in a constructive manner,'' she said.

Meanwhile, some Ontario school boards have written to the education minister with concerns that planned increases to class sizes will mean they can offer fewer elective courses, such as in the arts and skilled trades.

Boards in Peel region, Toronto and eastern Ontario told Lisa Thompson that her move to increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28 will affect student learning.

Thousands of teaching positions are expected to be lost over the four years the change is phased in, though the Education Minister has said there will be no ``involuntary job losses.''

(with files from the Canadian Press)