By Barb McKay
Roughly 200 teachers and supporters gathered outside of Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson’s constituency office in Kincardine on Friday to protest cuts to education and increased class sizes. Thompson, who is Ontario’s minister of education, was in Toronto on Friday. The Bluewater District School Board reported last week that 92 secondary school teacher layoff notices were sent out. Some teachers may be recalled, depending on teacher leaves of absence, but the number will not be adjusted for retirements. Teachers from Kincardine and District Secondary School (KDSS), Saugeen District Secondary School, Walkerton District Secondary School, Owen Sound District Secondary School, along with teachers from local elementary schools, dressed in red and carried signs when they gathered along Queen Street late in the afternoon. Passing motorists honked in support. Several of the teachers who attended the rally had received layoff notices, including KDSS French teacher Jonathon Farrell. He said the government needs to stop thinking of students as numbers. “I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think it’s responsible,” he said of the increased class sizes that are causing the layoffs. “I think it will hurt our students.” Farrell was the first teacher at KDSS to teach the dedicated French Immersion program at the school. His concern is that the one remaining French teacher at the high school also teaches art and so one program will suffer. He said the number of layoffs is much more than what the board had anticipated and while he said the government is blaming declining enrolment, he said it simply does not make sense. “A quarter of staff has been laid off but we haven’t lost a quarter of our students. The numbers don’t add up.” Farrell said he has received layoff notices in the past while teaching at the elementary level, but was then reinstated at different schools. This time there has been no such guarantee and his future is now uncertain. “I find myself reassuring my students that everything will be okay, when I don’t know myself that everything will be okay,” he said. “I live in Kincardine and I have a mortgage. I don’t know what will happen in September.”
Farrell said he would like to ask Thompson how she justifies the change in class sizes and have her explain the changes to students. Betty-Jo Raddin, Bluewater local president for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, said secondary teachers and secondary school education plays a significant role in a healthy economy as students are being prepared for their future careers. She said the changes to the secondary school system, including increasing average class sizes from 22 to 28 students and making online courses mandatory will hurt rural communities especially. “From a secondary teaching perspective, this will have a significant impact on our small
schools to keep them open,” Raddin said. Last month, the province announced a new Attrition Protection Allocation of $1.6 billion, which school boards can dip into to avoid layoffs if they do not have enough teachers retiring or leaving voluntarily as class sizes are set to increase.