04/03/2019 16:42 EDT | Updated 04/04/2019 22:39 EDT

Ontario High Schoolers Plan Mass Walkout To Protest Ford Government’s Education Cuts

The Ontario government is increasing class sizes and making students take some courses online.

TORONTO — Thousands of high school students are expected to walk out of class Thursday to protest the Ontario government's changes to the public education system.

"The students say no," organizer Frank Hong said at a press conference at Queen's Park on Wednesday.

Hong said he expects between 100,000 and 200,000 students to participate at the more than 600 schools registered for the event. Students will head to short rallies held on school grounds and then return to class later in the day.

"Adults tend to stereotype students as lazy or ignorant of current events, but I can assure you that over the past two weeks, I've never seen a demographic of a population so engaged and motivated to fight for their right to well-funded, fair and equitable education."

Students Rayne Fisher-Quann, Frank Hong and Noah Sparrow pose with Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter at Queen's Park.

Minister of Education Lisa Thompson announced March 15 that average class sizes will increase to 24 students for grades four to eight and to 28 students for grades nine to 12. High school students will also have to take at least four of their 30 credits online instead of in a classroom with a teacher.

At the time, Thompson told reporters the changes would trim less than one per cent off the ministry's roughly $29-billion budget.

The students at Queen's Park noted that unions are estimating these changes will result in thousands of job losses for teachers.

The dynamic of the classroom will change momentously.Noah Sparrow

They also said the changes will disproportionately affect students with special needs, who may need more attention from their teachers, and students in low-income families, who may not have access to a laptop and internet at home to do their online course work.

"The dynamic of the classroom will change momentously," organizer Noah Sparrow said.

"I think it reflects a deep, deep lack of empathy ... from our elected officials," organizer Rayne Fisher-Quann said.

Thompson was asked about the protest during question period Wednesday.

She suggested that the students had been fed false information by the NDP.

Students who want to have their voices "properly heard" should participate in the government's online consultation, she said.

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson attends Question Period at the provincial legislature in Toronto on March 26, 2019.

At the press conference, the student organizers dismissed the minister's suggestion that their protest was less constructive than sending comments through a consultation.

"We're not just walking out. We have students becoming leaders in 700 schools across the province. They're organizing their own protests," Fisher-Quann said.

"In the past two weeks of organizing, I've learned more about our education system and about our government than I did in a year of civics and careers class."

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She also noted that when the government did consultations on sex education, the premier suggested that the results had been skewed by "certain" groups.

"We weren't being heard when the consultations were happening," Fisher-Quann said.

She was also involved in organizing a walkout over that issue.

"If there is one thing that Ford is good at, he is incredible at getting us mad and getting us active," she said.

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