Students walk out to protest Ford’s looming education cuts

By Roderick Benns

Students protest at I.E. Weldon S.S. in Lindsay. Photos: Roderick Benns

It’s 1:07 pm and the hallways of I.E. Weldon Secondary School in Lindsay are more alive than usual. Students are milling around, signs tucked under arms.

They seep out of the school and gather just off school property, forming long lines of anticipation until they become a single, large mass.

Just after 1:15 pm – the time when about 80,000 students across Ontario are doing the same thing – Grade 11 student Tisza Pàl address the assembled students with a megaphone.

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It’s nothing short of an excoriating attack on Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario, taking him to task for larger class sizes, a centralized online learning environment for some courses, a weakened OSAP system of student grants and loans, and imminent teacher job losses.

“You say your government is for the people, but…the cost of slashing far outweighs the paying off a small amount of debt,” Pàl tells the assembled students.

She said larger class sizes would mean it will be harder for students to get individualized help, and that thousands of teachers will lose their jobs because of it. She also didn’t buy that this would be a “school board decision,” given the boards get their funding from the Province.

Pàl says the cuts will also disproportionately affect lower income families from being able to access a quality education, given the cuts to OSAP which will now include more loans than grants, and the abolition of the six-month grace period for paying back the loans.

The protest was notable, too, for the number of Grade 12 students who were in attendance at the protest, and who were willing to speak up even though most of the cuts would not affect them personally.

Madeleine McColl says she wanted to support her fellow students, given a more generous OSAP was now in jeopardy. “And bigger classrooms mean it’s a detriment to some people’s learning styles,” she says.

Allison Scott, also Grade 12, agreed. “A close friend of ours is trying to pay for university,” pointing out the changes to OSAP will make it more difficult for her.

Grade 12 student Jonah Grignon says this is one of those times in life where the actions of a government will have a direct and immediate effect.

“It won’t affect me personally, but this generation will all be able to vote soon and they sure won’t be voting to make cuts to education,” he says.

Lauren Boles, a Grade 11 student, says she’s standing up “because they’re trying to take away very important aspects of my education.”

She listed Weldon’s weight room, its specialty language classes – like Japanese and Spanish, the Writer’s Craft course, and a Fashion course.

“I wanted to take that Fashion course next year,” she explains.

While Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s position is they would “prefer students didn’t” do the walk-out in response to education cuts by the Province, Catherine Shedden, district manager of corporate communications, says they are “welcome to do so peacefully.”

Shedden says they know area schools are interested in expressing their disagreement with recent announcements from the provincial government on education matters.

“We have said that while we like to encourage students to look at alternatives, like writing a letter to their MPP,” the school will simply mark them absent if they decide to take part in the walk-out.

Ford’s recent proposed changes include increasing the number of students in high school classes to include between 28 to 42 students, resulting in thousands of lost jobs for teachers, and changes in the programs for kids with autism in schools that have not been well received.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says the larger class sizes alone will directly affect some 5,500 teachers in publicly funded systems province-wide. Locally, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation is stating that 51 secondary school teaching positions could be lost within the Trillium Lakelands school board alone due to the education cuts.

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