CK students to participate in province-wide walkout Thursday

Emma Kathleen (left) and Zoë Boonstra (right) are organizing the student walkout at Chatham-Kent Secondary School Thursday to protest provincial changes to the education system. April 1, 2019. (Photo by Greg Higgins)

Local high school students will be protesting provincial changes to the education system later this week with a planned province-wide walkout.

The government of Ontario plans to increase minimum class sizes and implement mandatory online classes, which has a couple of Chatham-Kent Secondary School students upset enough to join with others around the province for a planned walkout on Thursday, April 4.

“We aren’t able to vote and we often don’t have a voice in these matters,” Zoë Boonstra said. “We want to get our voices heard as best we can.”

Boonstra is one of the organizers of the walkout in Chatham, along with fellow student Emma Kathleen. Kathleen said the biggest problem the students have is class sizes increasing from an average of 22 per class to 28.

“There’s a potential to be almost 40 kids in each class,” Kathleen said. “Some students struggle in areas and increasing the class sizes will mean less one-on-one work time with teachers. I personally believe it will not be beneficial for anyone’s marks.”

Boonstra said students across the province will be joining them at 1:15 p.m. Thursday for the protest. She added they’re teaming up with students from John McGregor and Ursuline College Chatham to make it a city-wide protest. Both students insisted the movement isn’t just an excuse to get out of school and the plan is to return to class after the demonstration is over.

“We’re going to have signs and have people speak at the walkout so people realize this isn’t just a bunch of students protesting having their cellphones taken away,” Boonstra said. “That is barely important when compared to funding getting cut to programs to help children with autism succeed. This is serious and we want to be taken seriously.”

The pair created an Instagram account to help promote the protest and said the demonstration will just be for half an hour after which the students are expected to return to class. Kathleen said there are rules in place for the walkout to make sure the cause is taken seriously. Perhaps the most important rule is to make sure the demonstration remains peaceful.

She added chanting and signage is allowed but cannot focus on a particular politician or political party.

“We implore every student to walk out on April 4 to show support for this cause that will benefit everyone,” Boonstra said. “Our education is everyone’s future.”

The protest is being recognized by both the Lambton Kent District School Board and St. Clair Catholic District School Board. While both entities are discouraging students from participating, they said those who choose to will not be suspended.