Students expressed their concern at upcoming provincial cuts to education with a protest outside Haliburton Highlands Secondary School April 4.
More than 30 students from the school walked out of class and gathered in solidarity with province-wide protests
against the cuts, including proposed increases to high school class sizes from 22 to 28 students.
HHSS student organizer Chloe Samson said students are worried about having fewer teachers in their school.
“We wanted to do this because if we didn’t get out and show our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, then we weren’t really exercising our rights as students,” Samson said. “We just felt we had to do something about it and we made the right move coming out here today.”
Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) communications manager Catherine Shedden said when the board learned of the student-organized event, they established parameters. Those included students being marked absent if participating and demonstrations not being allowed on high school property.
“While it is not sanctioned by the school board, schools are not denying the rights for students to protest,” Shedden said. “School administrators encouraged students to consider alternatives to a walkout – including writing a letter to their MPP or to the Minister of Education.”
The province has suggested teachers’ unions may have been behind the demonstrations.
“This isn’t about class sizes, I’ll tell you,” Premier Doug Ford said during question period April 4. “This is about union bosses telling the teachers and the students what to do.”
Samson said the teachers and school staff did not offer much response to students about the effort.
“Most of the teachers weren’t at liberty to share their opinions to the students,” Samson said. “But we did have positive reinforcement.”
Province proposing education reforms
The province is exploring a series of education reforms, including an increase in the funded average class size from 22 to 28 in Grades 9-12 and from 23.84 to 24.5 in Grades 4-8.
“The government is committed to achieving greater financial sustainability in the education system without involuntary front-line layoffs,” Deputy Minister of Education Nancy Naylor said in a memo to school authorities March 15. “The proposed changes to class sizes may have implications for teacher staffing in Ontario school boards.”
The change has school boards preparing for staff reductions. The Toronto District School Board said March 21 the changes would result in the loss of about 800 of its teachers.
TLDSB director of education Larry Hope said it is estimated the board there will be 24 fewer high school teaching positions across its board due to classroom size changes.
Samson said students think they need every teacher they have.
“If we had less teachers, then we would have less opportunity,” she said.