Grade 6 Niagara Falls student reaches over 1,500 signatures on petition to lower class sizes

Peter Szick almost passed away from diabetes when he was 22 months. Now, he wants to make sure things are as safe as possible when he and his friends go back to school.

Petition was sent to student's role model, Max Domi, who also has diabetes

A Grade 6 student from Niagara says he's started a petition for smaller class sizes to make it as safe as possible when he goes back to class. (Submitted by Dana Szick)

A petition to lower class sizes started by a Grade 6 student in Niagara Falls has now reached over 1,500 signatures. 

Peter Szick, who is 11 years old and a Type 1 diabetic, says it makes him feel good to have so many people behind him. 

When Peter gets the flu, it hits him harder than most people. He and his family are worried about what might happen if he gets sick with COVID-19 — so with back to school around the corner, Peter is taking action to make sure things are as safe as possible. 

"When the government announced we were going back to school in September, I was a bit scared because they weren't going to lower class sizes," he said, "So [I said] to my mom, let's do a petition." 

The petition on Change.org urges Premier Doug Ford and the province's minister of education Stephen Lecce to "lower class sizes in all grades to a maximum of 15 students per class." 

One metre of space is needed between students from Kindergarten to Grade 8, it says. Before the province announced its return to school plans, medical experts said one metre was sufficient for physical distancing. 

Peter said watching the signatures grow — from 100 to 200 to now over 1,500 — has been "crazy." 

His mom, Dana, says she's extremely proud of her son, who wants to go back to school and see his friends, but also have his voice heard.

"A lot of what's going on in the news is educators, the government," she said. "People in big positions are talking, but no one's really talking to the kids and asking them how they feel." 

Since starting the petition a couple weeks ago, she says Peter has grown to be more sure of himself. 

"I can see a confidence in him that I didn't see two weeks ago about going back to school," she said. "I'm just proud of him for standing up for what he believes in." 

They've sent the petition to "whoever would listen" including politicians, newspapers, and also Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who is Type 1 diabetic just like Peter. 

Peter says he likes that Domi plays hockey and wears the same continuous glucose monitor as him. 

Peter heads into the new school year after earning a brown belt in karate over Zoom classes this summer. His younger brother above peeks around him. (Submitted by Dana Szick)

When Peter was 22 months old, he almost passed away from diabetes. His motto now is "I lived to tell the tale." 

His mom says he wants to live his life, and staying home isn't doing that.

"If the class sizes were smaller, all of that would just fall into place," she said, adding that kids with varying needs should be taken care of too. 

"It's not a perfect plan, and Peter knows there are risks. But he doesn't want to stay home anymore. He just wants to be with his friends, but he wants to feel safe."

Peter goes to Father Hennepin Catholic Elementary School in Niagara Falls. His younger brother and his mother, who works as a teacher, will also all be headed back to class. 

The Niagara Catholic District School Board has elementary students starting on September 14 with a staggered entry back.

Staff and students in Grade 4 to 12 will wear masks. Children in kindergarten to Grade 3 aren't required to wear them, but are still encouraged. 

The board says online that physical distancing will be an "expectation" of students. But the placement of desks "will depend on the number of students in a classroom" with the board making "every effort to distance students as far apart as possible." 

Peter's spent the past few months getting a brown belt in karate over Zoom, learning golf with his brother, and talking to his friends on the phone and on Xbox. He's excited to finally see them in class, but wants people to remember to wear a mask and social distance. 

"It is our right to be in our classrooms and it is not wrong to ask our government leaders to protect us," he writes in his petition. "We are just kids who want to be kids again and need our adults in powerful government positions to protect us so we can have a future."