The streets of Barry’s Bay were filled with students in protest

Barry’s Bay — A large group of Madawaska Valley District High School joined tens of thousands of fellow students across the province Thursday in a sign of solidarity as they walked out of school and marched through the streets of Barry’s Bay to show their opposition to proposed changes that will directly affect their high school education.

At 1 p.m. last Thursday, about 65 students filed through the cafeteria doors and down a set of stairs that leads to Highway 62 and walked to Zurakowski Park in the centre of town where they heard from two student leaders on why they and so many others decided to take drastic action to get their message out.

Sean McCloskey, the lead organizer for the protest and one of two student trustees on the Renfrew County District School Board, said students cannot sit idly by while decisions are being made about their education, and their future by politicians who are more concerned about saving money than guaranteeing opportunities for students once they graduate.

“We are mad about this and there are a lot of students across the province who do not support the changes being made,” he said. “I think we are joining a movement to say no to the changes and it will have a big affect on all of us and we have to let the politicians know about it.”

As the students made their way to Zurakowski Park, members of the Killaloe Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police provided traffic control when they crossed Highway 60 and assembled holding up signs all with a common theme to stop the changes. A number of the messages were aimed at Premier Rob Ford.

When Mr. McCloskey spoke to the group of students at he said there were four changes proposed that needed to be addressed.

“They want to increase the class sizes from 22 to 28 students and this will require that more students will have to be in a course in order to make it run and with a small enrollment like we have, we could see some major cuts or up to 38 students in a course all at once,” he said. “This means that 10,000 young teachers across the province could lose their jobs and Ontario students do not need less teachers…we need more.”

He also said the mandatory introduction of students being required to take a minimum of three e-learning credits as a pre-requisite if a student wants to graduate is an issue as not every student can do that. He said many students don’t have access to locations to complete this due to the lack of technology in rural areas.

“Overall cuts to our whole system and they want to take up to $1 billion out of the system and that is in addition to cuts to kindergarten, elementary schools and Early Childhood Educators and that will be over $500 million,” he said. “This Conservative government is more concerned with saving money than caring about students and this is the time to stand up and to stop them. That time is now.”

Brooklyn Lundy, a Grade 12 student who will be graduating in three months, said although the changes won’t affect her directly, she is more concerned with her younger sister and thousands of others who will be affected.

“My sister will be graduating Grade 8 and I am here for them,” she said before the rally. “We are here today to tell the politicians that our education matters and we are concerned about our future. As we stand with students across the province we are making a statement.

“No community is too small to make a difference and I encourage all of you to go to social media, take pictures of what we are doing here today and send it across the province to let people know what we are doing. Let’s make our voices heard.”

Earlier in the day, Renfrew County District School Board Communication Manager Jonathan Laderoute sent out a message advising residents of the planned rally.

“We are anticipating student walkouts this afternoon at a variety of school sites across our district,” it read. “We value and encourage student voice and appreciate that they feel strongly about matters that affect them. This is not a district sanctioned event. Staff will ensure that protesting students are safe when on school grounds, and make certain that they are not occupying neighbouring properties or public roadways. If students protest off district property, the principal, at their discretion, will monitor and or make police aware.”