Thousands of students showed their dissatisfaction with the Ford government’s cuts to education today by walking out of class.

At around 1:15 p.m., thousands of students marched out of class, chanting slogans and carrying placards.

Dubbed the “#StudentsSayNo Walkout,” organizers said they expected 200,000 students at hundreds of elementary and high schools across the province to take part.

At a number of Toronto schools, students poured out onto sidewalks and sports fields in large numbers to protest.

“It clearly shows you that people are angry at Doug Ford and they don’t want these cuts,” one student told CP24 outside Bloor Collegiate.

Another student carrying a sign which read “hands off my education,” said she’s concerned about the online classes the government is proposing.

“I don’t agree with the online courses that we have to take because some people don’t have access to the internet or a computer that they can work on.”

Organizing group “March for Our Education” said this is the fourth and largest walkout protest they have held to protest cuts.   

The group said the walkouts are being held to protest changes such as mandatory online courses for all students, cuts to Ontario’s autism programs, banning of cell phones from classrooms, the planned elimination of thousands of teaching positions across the province and larger average class sizes.

“The message that we’re trying to get across to the Ford government is that students across Ontario will not stand and just watch as they rip apart our education system,” March for Our Education Co-Executive Director and Grade 12 student Frank Hong told CP24. “We started this only two weeks ago and we have reached almost every single student across the province. We have walkouts planned in North Bay to Windsor to Ottawa to Toronto. This is a province-wide movement and through this we hope the Ford government listens to us and cancels the education cuts.”

The ministry of education responded to the walkouts and potential loss of teaching jobs on Thursday evening.

“The ministry of education expects a total of 3,475 full-time equivalent teachers to attrit out of the system over the next four years, with an anticipated savings of $851 million over four years,” spokesperson Kayla Iafelice said. “As we’ve said from the beginning, not a single teacher will experience an involuntary job loss.”

Beginning this fall, 1,558 positions are expected to be phased out through attrition and voluntary packages followed by another 619 in 2020-2021, 738 in 2021-2022 and 560 in 2022-2023.

Also in response to the walkouts, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said she thinks roundtables and consultations are better ways to give feedback than walkouts.

“We want to listen in a constructive way so we can gather all the data together so that we can effect change in a positive manner,” Thompson said.

She said it’s difficult for the government to respond to messages sent in a walkout.

“We’re seeing the en masse, but we’re not hearing their voice in a manner that we can work with,” Thompson said. “But you know what’s really important; I understand that the system is broken.”

She said her government inherited an education system that was “crumbling” under the previous government and has undertaken consultations to improve the system.

“We listened to parents, we listened to teachers and we listened to students last fall and because of that, we’ve landed in a very strong spot,” Thompson said. “We’re focusing on math, we’re focusing on the topics and subjects in school that will prepare kids for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Hong said that beyond Thursday’s walkouts, students “are thinking about next steps” to make sure they keep the government’s attention.

He said a campaign urging students and their parents to write letters to their MPPs will likely be the next step.

“MPPs listen to parents because parents are voters. If parents start expressing their anger, MPPs will listen and eventually the Ford government will have to listen too,” Hong said.  

By around 3 p.m., most of the protests had wrapped up.

“Walkouts do work. We amplify the student voice and the province and the world can hear us,” Hong said.

Math tests, training being considered for teachers

Thompson also responded to a report that the province is considering implementing mandatory math tests for all teachers.

“We’re considering all of our options very carefully because again, we heard loud and clear from parents that we’re failing our students, the past government failed our students and as a result we’ve lost a generation and it has to stop right here and that’s my commitment as minister; we are going to make sure we get our math education back on track.”

She said the government plans on “investing” in current teachers in the classroom so that they feel confident in their subject matter.

“We want them to be confident. Teachers are at their best when they know their subject matter and they are confident and are actually demonstrating how math can be fun with students,” Thompson said.  “So we’re going to be investing in teachers in the classroom with supplemental math courses to make sure they have the confidence to be standing in front of the class, teaching them math.

Asked if she thinks teachers will be supportive of the supplementary training, Thompson said “I know that they support the fact that we want to see them be the best that they can be and to be the best, we know we have to help them and invest in them.”