The afternoon of April 4 was not just another Thursday at local high schools.

Students across the region left class at 1:15 p.m. and joined what was an Ontario-wide protest changes to education policy by the Ontario government.

Those changes include allowing the average high school class size increase to 28 from 22.  Students will also have to begin completing four online courses towards the 30 credits they require to obtain a secondary school diploma.

At Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute, approximately 200 students streamed out of the school with homemade placards and gathered along Highway 34 near the entrances to the property.  Shouts of “Our education! Our future!” were heard from the crowd.

The student protests were not authorized by school boards.  However, at many high schools, principals and teachers accompanied students outdoors.

The Ontario Provincial Police arrived at most of the demonstrations to ensure traffic and pedestrian safety.

A smaller crowd assembled outside École secondaire catholique régionale de Hawkesbury, which is in a much less-visible cul-de-sac of Kitchener Street.  One of the signs in the crowd explicitly said “F#CK FORD” in reference to the Premier.

According to grade 11 student Yanick Lalonde at École secondaire de Plantagenet, approximately 300 students at that school left class and paraded around the circular driveway in front of the school fronting Highway 17.

In Russell, grade 10 student council representative Meadow Donnelly organized the demonstration at St-Thomas-Aquinas Catholic High School.

She said the protest there was “unexpectedly large” with about 300 students participating.

Donnelly said students are anxious about larger class sizes and the mandatory online courses.

Later Thursday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson condemned the student walkouts and criticized the teacher’s unions for allegedly condoning them.

The minister said teachers should be focusing on improving students’ mathematics skills instead of using their classes “as a captive audience for their union’s political agenda.”

Thompson also advised school boards that disciplinary action should be taken against any teachers who took part in the walk-outs.

A government memo that was revealed on Friday stated the government plans to cut more than 3,400 teaching positions across the province.

ESCRH students protesting outside their school on Thursday. Photo: James Morgan