Students walk out over changes to education

Students in Waterloo region will be joining a provincewide walkout from class Thursday to protest changes to the Ontario education system. Three students — Willow Carmount, Olivier Szczepaniak and Melika Mansour — explained why they feel it's necessary to walk out.

'We have a voice and it is so important for us to use this voice,' student Melika Mansour says

These three students joined The Morning Edition on Thursday to discuss their thoughts on changes to education being proposed by the provincial government. The students are (from left): Willow Carmount of Southwood Secondary in Cambridge, Olivier Szczepaniak who is the student body president at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener, and Melika Mansour of Waterloo Collegiate Institute. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

Students in high schools and elementary schools in Waterloo region plan to walk out of class Thursday as part of a provincewide protest against changes being made to the education system by the provincial government.

About 600 schools across Ontario will be affected, organizers say.

A viral post by Natalie Moore, a Grade 12 student at Listowel District Secondary School in Listowel, Ont., started the movement, and it quickly snowballed as her friends around Ontario shared it in their own Instagram stories.

Moore says she was deeply troubled by the Progressive Conservative government's decision to increase high school class sizes in the province.

"I emailed my MPP, and when I didn't hear back from him I really wanted to do something," Moore told CBC on Thursday.

"I felt like students weren't aware, or they wouldn't do the research into the cuts. They might hear about them, but I didn't know how much detail they would know."

A letter sent to the Waterloo Region District School Board Monday, signed by student representatives, declared: 

"Beyond support, however, we also challenge you as the decision makers of our school board to consider how we can take our message to the next level, finding creative ways to educate the public on these cuts. We want to see students thrive in the classroom, and have all WRDSB educators keep their jobs without sacrifice."

Waterloo region

Three student organizers joined The Morning Edition on Thursday to discuss why they felt the walk out is necessary and what message they hope it sends to the province.

Willow Carmount is a student at Southwood Secondary in Cambridge and says the province should have consulted students about these changes.

"As teenagers, we have a very unique perspective coming from the people who are in high school right now," she said in an interview prior to the panel. "Why not talk first to the people who are currently being educated."

Olivier Szczepaniak is the student body president at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener and he said he's concerned about the way the province is tackling the budget and using the education system as a place to cut costs.

"Students aren't numbers. Teachers aren't numbers. Our communities aren't numbers," he told CBC. 

"We care about our education and we want to do well and we understand you've set out to balance the budget and to be honest, we appreciate that. But this isn't the way to do it."

Some critics of the walkouts say it's a way for students to get out of class, but Melika Mansour, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, says that's not true.

"There are tonnes of students who are participating in this walkout who are truly passionate about their education," she said. "We are walking out because we have a voice and it is so important for us to use this voice."

Schools prepare

The Waterloo District School Board said Wednesday "We recognize that our students have a right to civic engagement and encourage them to use their voices in a positive and respectful way."

The board stated it had "prepared and supported our school communities with respect to student walkouts and protests and have been actively communicating with our staff, parents, and student groups around the details, safety plans, and expectations of student activism."

Student leadership and positive citizenship are a central part of our daily classroom discussions. We are confident our students will exercise the same good judgement and critical thought that they demonstrate in their classrooms every day," the board said on its website.

Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga said it will "respect and support the right of students to advocate for causes that are important to them," but invited parents to be part of the conversation.

"If your teen is planning to participate in the walkout, please talk with them about why they want to participate. Share your perspective on the issue and how you would like to see things resolved. If your teen chooses to walk out, please ask them to make safe choices and to be respectful in their participation," the school wrote in a message posted to its website.

Individual schools and boards in the Toronto area sent letters home to parents saying that administrators are aware of the planned walkout and that they will work to ensure student safety, while noting that the protests are not school-sanctioned events.

Listen to the whole student panel discussion on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo:

Three students joined The Morning Edition ahead of a planned walkout over changes being made by the provincial government to the education system. Willow Carmount is a student at Southwood Secondary in Cambridge, Melika Mansour is a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, and Olivier Szczetaniak is a student at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener. They discuss why they're walking out and what they want the government to hear from them. 8:33


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