Student leaders at Brock High School explain talking points behind protest

On Thursday (April 4), students at Brock High School participated in a province-wide walkout in protest against some of the recent education reforms announced by the provincial government of Ontario. Some of the issues that the students walked out in protest of included class size increases, mandatory e-learning, OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) grant cuts, the targeting of arts courses and programs, and changes to the autism funding model.

As a collective, we are very concerned about the effect that these decisions will have on student learning and student well-being as a whole.

Increased class sizes do not build resilience. By increasing the number of kids in a class, the ability for every student to receive necessary support and guidance in their learning is significantly decreased. Students thrive in classes where they are able to establish meaningful connections with their teachers and peers through experiences such as discussions. By increasing class sizes this will simply not be able to happen. It is also important to note that many classrooms cannot comfortably and safely fit the number of students per classroom that is being proposed. Beyond students, class size increases will also put a tremendous strain on our teachers who already work extremely hard and may lead to a decrease in the quality of teaching they are able to provide.

Mandatory e-learning is something that scares us all. E-learning is not for everyone; it takes a ridiculous amount of self-discipline which many students have not developed by the time they reach high school and throughout their high school careers. Further, the quality of an e-learning class is not even remotely comparable to that of a regular class. The ability to interact with your teachers and classmates is an integral part of the learning experience and cannot be genuinely replicated in an online course. An e-learning course consists of sitting on a computer and independently reading through material and completing assignments with almost no teacher oversight. Some students have difficulty learning in a classroom even with a teacher helping them. The level of difficulty they will have if they are forced to do an e-learning course is unfathomable. By making e-learning mandatory, the government is saying that it is okay for these kids to fail. Although e-learning can be a valuable tool for some who may have trouble accessing courses within their school, it cannot be mandatory.

OSAP cuts that are in place left graduating students wondering what their future OSAP funding will look like. The provincial government of Ontario plans on eradicating the interest-free, six-month grace period and modifying it to charge interest instantly after graduation. Another plan is to no longer fund families with an income lower than $50,000. This means that students will not be receiving free tuition in the form of grants any longer. In contrast to low-income families, families with an income larger than $140,000, will not be eligible for Ontario Student Grants. These changes are said to make the OSAP system at a more even level, yet students need OSAP to help with the cost of university. OSAP is critical to students and families, and with these cuts in place, students are going to be struggling with the costs come post-secondary.

Arts programs are being targeted, leaving them to be underfunded and possibly eliminated from high schools. To be involved in the arts means that students have an open opportunity to learn and express themselves in unique ways. All the arts have a tremendous impact on a student’s learning because of the concepts including critical thinking, imagination and problem solving, not to mention the hundreds of studies done showing that the arts boost student’s academically and socially. With the cuts to arts programs, it is impossible to imagine what high school would be like without music, visual arts, indigenous arts, dance, and drama. If arts programs are being cut, that consequences into arts teachers losing their jobs and the possibility of art programs being online. How does that work? The arts are exceedingly important to the lives of students, and their education and students as well as teachers cannot afford to lose some of the most effectual programs in high school.

The autism funding model cuts will mean that children within our schools that have autism will not be supported to the necessary level that they need to be. According to a letter created by the Durham District School Board Trustees, programs to support students with complex needs including autism cost five to six times more than the funding provided. This means that due to the changes in the funding model there is no possible way they can be adequately supported. Many of the students who walked out today did so because they know someone closely affected by autism. We believe that it is important that those with autism and their families are supported both in the school system as well as outside of it and call on the provincial government to adequately fund the programs they need.

We stand in support of our entire school including our teachers, administrators, educational assistants, custodial staff, and others who support us on our learning journey.

As a united front of students, we are calling for the provincial government of Ontario to reverse their decisions to implement mandatory e-learning courses for all secondary students in Ontario; increase class size averages; change the Autism Funding Model; implement OSAP cuts; and to target arts courses and programs within our schools.

Developed by Haley Canavan and Tyler West

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