High school students at over 500 high schools across Ontario walked out of their classrooms on Thursday to protest changes made to the provincial education system by the government under Premier Doug Ford, including in Guelph where hundreds rallied on Carden St. and shared stories of how the changes will impact their lives.
The walkout, organized largely via the Instagram hashtag #StudentsSayNo, featured thousands of students across Ontario spurred by a viral post made by grade 12 student Natalie Moore that quickly spread across the province.
The hashtag has been used over 4,500 times and an account dedicated to the “Students Say No” movement has accrued some 18,000 followers ahead of the protest.
In Guelph, over 300 students participating in the walkout, which culminated in front of city hall in Market Square. Many students took part in chants and made speeches at the available microphone saying that they were there to “make a statement” and “stand up for their future”.
Signs reading “hands off my music program”, “protect our teachers”, and expletives against the premier adorned walkout signs and multiple chants, including some that used expletives against Ford, were heard from the crowds.
It is not the first time in recent memory that Guelph secondary students filled Market Square in protest of Doug Ford. Last year, during the municipal election, hundreds of students made noise over changes to the sex education curriculum and the environment at 1 Carden Street.
In terms of special guests, only Ward 3 City Councillor Phil Allt was present but no other City of Guelph, provincial or federal officials were on hand. Many city officials were taking part in the ceremonial swearing of the new police chief around the same time Thursday afternoon.
One of those people at the swearing in was Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner, but he did make sure that his support for the students was known on social media, saying, “I am so thankful for your civic engagement and proud of you for standing up for high-quality public education.”
At Queen’s Park, Ford criticized the walkouts, saying the students were being used as pawns by “union bosses telling the teachers and the students what to do.”
Meet One of the Organizers
“It really hit me.”
It was when her choir director started talking about how the extracurricular program might be cancelled due to cuts made by the provincial government that Morgaine McEvoy realized she needed to do something.
McEvoy launched the plan for Guelph high schoolers to walkout on April 4 in synchronization with secondary students across the province, and was one of the organizers at her school, Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, where she is in grade nine.
When she was asked what changes she thought would have the most detrimental impact on her peers, McEvoy said “definitely the cuts to the autism program and the largest class sizes, those will hurt many people”.
“But it’s hard to rank the many things that this bill will do, and I think they are all important,” she added, referencing a series of legislative documents carrying out the secondary education cuts and upsizing class sizes.
In planning for Thursday, McEvoy got in contact with other planners, schools and seniors who have carried out walkouts in the past. She has only been to one walkout previously, the one protesting changes to the sex ed last fall. McEvoy is enjoying the chance to make sure student voices are being heard.
“The best moment from today was definitely hearing from people who are being directly impacted, such as those with learning disabilities, Indigenous Peoples [and] people with autism. It’s really nice to hear from those who have direct experience,” she said
McEvoy, 14, told Guelph Politico that she is hoping Minister of Education Lisa Thompson and the Ford government “will recognize that this is not what the students want” and seeks changes to the Progressive Conservative legislation.
She also had a word for the university students at least four years her senior. “Stay strong, you are our future, you are the ones who vote, you can change the tides.”
“If nobody else in the world can, you can.”
Birth of an Activist?
McEvoy wants everyone to know that she’s not done with protesting.
“My plans are currently to attend the protest on climate change, and specifically continue on the route of global warming as that is one I am specifically passionate about,” she said.
“I will definitely continue to be an activist and do as best as I can to make the world we live in as good as we can.”
All images via Guelph Politico/The Avro Post on April 4, 2019.