Hundreds of students marched to Kingston City Hall on Thursday as part of a province-wide protest to the Ontario government’s announcement of changes to the education system.
The protests came after Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced a slew of changes to her ministry’s portfolio, including a revamped health and physical education curriculum, a classroom cellphone ban and an increase in high-school class sizes.
The increase in class sizes would affect Grades 4 to 12, a move that would help cut costs. Despite the fact that the Doug Ford government said the change would not result in any job losses, but many in Ontario, including thousands of students, believe the change may do just that.
In Kingston, students from Kingston Collegiate Vocational Institute, Loyalist Collegiate Vocational Institute, Regiopolis Notre-Dame Catholic School, Holy Cross Secondary School and Frontenac Secondary School were meant to participate in the walkout.
A walkout was also planned by a parent group for students at Wellbourne Public School, making it the only known elementary school in the city to participate in the protest.
Many students carried colourful signs and chanted as they gathered outside city hall.
Kingston’s local NDP MPP Ian Arthur met the throngs of student activists on Thursday in a show of solidarity with the movement.
“Any time youth are able to come together like this, it’s so important to show up and show your support,” Arthur said to the group.
The same day as the protest, the chair of the Limestone District School Board, Suzanne Ruttan, published a letter she sent on behalf of the trustees to Minister of Education Lisa Thompson.
Ruttan says the decision to change class sizes from 22 children to 28 per class could “have dramatic and harmful effects on students and staff,” especially for students with special needs, who may not be able to get the attention they need.
The increase in class sizes could mean a significant loss of teaching staff across the province, including 800 teaching jobs in Toronto.
Ruttan said a conservative estimate for their board would be 80 teachers lost, which could, in turn, result in the loss of extra-curricular activities, as well as fewer courses offered.
“Some of our schools are already challenged in offering students the courses they want and need to help them pursue their post-secondary pathway of choice – apprenticeship, college, university, or the workplace,” Ruttan writes.
Not only will the increase in classroom sizes harm students and staff, Ruttan says it will also hurt the board’s budget by about $2 million.
“We are deeply troubled by these reductions which will only challenge an already overburdened system.”
On top of the changes to class size, the government is suggesting that every student have four mandatory online learning courses. Ruttan says this idea should be revised.
“We know from past experiences that online learning works extremely well for some students, but not all, particularly those who benefit from a more collaborative and structured learning environment.”
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