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Students set for province-wide walkout over planned education changes

Last Updated Apr 4, 2019 at 12:10 pm EDT

Tens of thousands of high school students across Ontario are expected to take part in a massive province-wide walkout on Thursday to protest the Ford government’s cuts and changes to Ontario’s education system.

The movement is to protest what organizers call the Ford government’s “attack on public education” which they say will be “extremely detrimental to students on both a long-term and widespread scale.”

“These cuts will deeply hurt us in terms of the online courses, the cuts to teachers and the class sizes,” says Frank Hong, a co-organizer of the movement. “In every one of these points students are going to suffer.”

The protest comes in the wake of announced changes to the education system which includes slashing almost $100-million in education job funding, the loss of 18,000 teaching jobs, revamping the health and physical education curriculum and an almost 30 percent increase in high school class sizes.

Organizers say they expect 100,000 students from over 700 schools to take part in the walkout.

“It is crucial that we take back our education and show that we have a loud and powerful voice,” reads a letter from organizers to students planning to take part in the #StudentsSayNo movement. “We need to hold the government accountable and ensure that we are being heard.”

The Toronto District School Board says it sent home a letter to parents, informing them about the planned walkouts.

“As a school, we encourage students to be well-informed about issues in our society, to think critically, and to express themselves respectfully and responsibly in articulating views they may havem,” read a portion of the letter which added that school administrators and police would be on hand to ensure student safety.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson refused to address the walkout directly when asked about it on Wednesday said safety is her top priority.

“I would like to remind everyone, school boards and teachers have a responsibility to ensure that students are learning at the school and that they are safe.”

When asked about encouraging students to have a voice and protest, Thompson said students had a chance to speak up in a constructive environment and had the opportunity to impact change during consultations last fall.

A joint statement released by the five unions that make up the largest representatives of educators in Ontario – the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), the Canadian Union of Public Employees — Ontario (CUPE), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) – urged the government to rethink its proposed changes.

“Teachers and education workers in Ontario have formed a common front to defend a strong, publicly funded education system that is of high quality and accessible to all,” read the statement. “The cuts being made to the education budget will have devastating effects on student well-being and achievement.”

WATCH: Students from Mississauga’s Meadowvale Secondary School tell Adrian Ghobrial why they walked out of class, and about their efforts to speak to Conservative MPP Nina Tangri