Niagara Students Join Thousands of their Peers Across Ontario in Raising a Voice For Quality Education

Natalie Moore, a Listowel, Ontario high school student whose message of concern triggered a province-wide walkout for quality education

“We do understand that balancing the books is important, but it should never come at the cost of our world-class education system we’ve built in Ontario-” – Natalie Moore, an 18-year-old high school student from Listowel, Ontario who sparked the province-wide, April .4th student walkout with a message of concern she shared on social media.

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted April 5th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

More than 200 students at Holy Cross Secondary School in St. Catharines join this April 4th’s province-wide walkout to protest the Ford government’s cuts to education.

Niagara, Ontario – If there was any doubt that young people should have a voice in the decisions the Ford government is making that that are affecting their lives, this past Thursday, April 4th they used it.

More than 200 students at Holy Cross Secondary School in St. Catharines joined countless tens of thousands of others at high schools across Niagara and the rest of the province in an afternoon walkout to protest recent moves by the Ontario government of Doug Ford to, among other things, increase class sizes, cut teachers jobs, kill a recently updated sex education curriculum and force students to take at least four mandatory online courses in place of having a real teacher in the classroom. 

“Instead of focusing on our education, we need to be out here right now, fighting for it,” said Stephanie Kennedy, a Grade 12 student and president of Holy Cross Secondary School’s student union, as drivers waved and honked their horns in support of students lining the road in front of the school.

From left, Niagara Catholic School Board trustee Larry Huibers, with Holy Cross Secondary School Grade 12 student and school council president Stephanie Kennedy, Grade 11 student and council rep Alex Leslie, and St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens at April 4th student walkout. Huibers and Stevens said the walkout was all the work of the students. They said they were only there to show the students some support.

Earlier in the day, Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, rose in the legislature to say that the “union bosses” (teachers’ unions) and opposition parties were responsible for telling students to leave their classrooms and hold demonstrations.

Ford’s education minister, Lisa Thompson, issued a statement in the hours following the walkouts saying that “Today is a disappointing day for Ontario’s parents and students. …On a day when we reached out to begin good-faith consultations with Ontario’s teachers, we instead are seeing Ontario teachers’ unions condoning a student walkout at schools across the province.”

Holy Cross Secondary School students participating in the walkout

“We know teachers’ unions organized student walkouts under the previous government,” charged Thomspon. “I’m concerned we may be seeing the same thing now as teachers’ unions are clearly not discouraging this stunt.”

Kennedy said the walkouts were student driven and had nothing to do with unions or politicians.

Alex Leslie, a Grade 11 student at Holy Cross, said students are concerned about the future of their education and are speaking out on their own.

“Obviously, students are passionate about this issue,” said Leslie as the walkout continued in front of her school.

The idea of a province-wide student walkout reportedly began when caught fire when Natalie Moore, a secondary school student from Listowel, Ontario posted it on social media and it went viral.

As walkout in front of Holy Cross Secondary School continues, drivers honk their horns and offer waves of support.

Moore told CBC this April 4th that she began by emailing her MPP about concerns she and fellow students had about what they feel are damaging changes the Ford government is planning for the province’s public schools, “and when I didn’t hear back from him, I really wanted to do something.”

St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens, an Ontario NDP member, attended the walkout at Holy Cross to show her support for the students, as did Larry Huibers, a St. Catharines trustee for the Niagara Catholic School Board, and both said they feel it was an insult to the students to suggest they couldn’t plan demonstrations on their own.

“I wish I had that much power,” said Sevens of any suggestion that politicians were behind the walkout.

Bobbi Mackenzie, a parent of a Grade 10 special needs student at Holy Cross who was standing to the side as students demonstrated, said her son Ethan made his own decision to join the walkout.

“This is a student-led protest,” she said, adding that her son is concerned about the possibility of more resources being cut for students with special needs.

More than a few students at this rally and others across the province made a point of saying that many of them will be old enough to vote when Ford and his Tories run for a second term three years down the line, and they would be wise to keep the concerns of young people in mind.

At Holy Cross Secondary School in St. Catharines, getting ready to join a walkout with hundreds  of other students across Ontario

Stephanie Kennedy said she hopes demonstrations like the one held this April 4th will cause Ford and his government to reconsider any decisions that may compromise the quality of education in the province.

The Ford government should also reconsider changes it is making to OSAP (the Ontario Student Assistance Program) that will make it harder for students to obtain the grants and loans they need to pay for a university and college education, she said.

While high school students across the province were demonstrating this April 4th, there were stories in the mainstream media about countless numbers of young people across the province who still don’t know if they will get a grant or loan to go to college or university this year, thanks to changes the Ford government recently made to the OSAP system.

For the record, here is the full text of the statement Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson circulated in the hours following the April 4th province-wide student walkout –

April 4, 2019

Today Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education, issued the following statement:

“Today is a disappointing day for Ontario’s parents and students. On a day when we reached out to begin good-faith consultations with Ontario’s teachers, we instead are seeing Ontario teachers’ unions condoning a student walkout at schools across the province.

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson

We know teachers’ unions organized student walkouts under the previous government. I’m concerned we may be seeing the same thing now as teachers’ unions are clearly not discouraging this stunt.

Instead of focusing on political stunts, I encourage the unions to instead work cooperatively with us on the real challenges facing Ontario’s education system such as the fact that too many of our kids are failing math — graduating without the skills necessary to successfully enter the workforce.

Over half of Ontario’s sixth grade students are failing to meet an acceptable standard on their math tests. The teachers’ unions have offered no solutions to the math crisis. Instead of focusing on math — they are now enabling students to skip classes. And even when students are in class, too many teachers are choosing to use students as a captive audience for their union’s political agenda.

Our government will not be distracted from making the necessary reforms Ontario needs to improve math scores as part of a sustainable, world-class education system that protects what matters most for students.

We are renewing Ontario’s curriculum to get back to the basics so that more kids have the math, science and financial literacy skills they need to succeed.

We have just passed legislation to make the successful completion of a math content knowledge test a requirement for certification by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Our government is now actively considering making math skills a minimum standard for re-certification in Ontario.

In the meantime, I want to remind parents that, should they be concerned about their child’s safety because of any union support of the walkout, they always have the option to contact the Ontario College of Teachers, which is the regulatory body responsible for teacher misconduct.

I also want to advise all school boards that I expect them to take action to discipline anyone who abandons their classroom responsibilities. In the private sector, people know that if you skip work without justification, you don’t get paid.

And I want everyone in Ontario to know that we are prepared to take action to give parents peace of mind that no one will use our children as a captive audience or bargaining chip as part of their union’s political games.”

Finally, here is a message of support that Ontario’s Opposition and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath that was circulated to high school students across the province this April 4th- 

Andrea Horwath’s Letter to Students #StudentsSayNo

Dear Friends,

As Leader of the NDP and your Official Opposition in Ontario, it is my honour to stand in solidarity with you, the tens of thousands of students who are walking out today to demand better from the government.

Over the last nine months, Doug Ford has taken aim at public education over and over again. He scrapped $100 million in critical school repairs when schools are literally crumbling across the province. He cut $25 million in education programming that was helping put young people and families on a good path. He made students unsafe by dragging the sex ed curriculum back to the previous century.

Ontario NDP and Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath

And now, Doug Ford is removing caps on class sizes, ripping $1 billion away from your education, and taking 10,000 teachers and educators away from you.

You deserve better. You deserve so much better than Doug Ford and a government that takes away from you, so they can afford to give more to their wealthy friends and insiders.

Here’s the thing: Doug Ford underestimated you.

Politicians often say that students are the future or the leaders of tomorrow. Not you. You’re the leaders of today. You’re the people that are fighting for what’s right, right now. You’re fighting for yourself, for your teachers, for your classmates, and for Ontario.

So, thank you for your phenomenal leadership, passion and determination. I want you to know that the NDP has your back, and won’t give up this fight. Ontario doesn’t belong to Doug Ford – it belongs to you. Your education doesn’t belong to Doug Ford — it belongs to you.

Together, let’s fight for our shared vision of Ontario — the best place in the world to live, learn and grow.

Let’s get it done, Andrea Horwath, Ontario’s Official Opposition and NDP leader

To read a story on Natalie Moore, the student whose social media message, inspired the province-wide student walkout, click on – https://www.therecord.com/news-story/9247142-listowel-high-school-student-organizes-provincewide-walkout-in-protest-of-proposed-education-cuts/ .

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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