The Boston family came from Orangeville, Ont., to protest education cuts at Queen’s Park. Though Sean and Sonia both teach in the public system, their kids Arianna, Liam and Ciara all go to St. Peter in Orangeville. The protest followed a student walkout the previous day at 700 schools. Photo by Michael Swan

‘Catholic system will be the next target’

By 
  • April 9, 2019

Starving Ontario’s school boards of money will eventually lead to the loss of Catholic education, protesters told The Catholic Register during a rally at Queen’s Park.

Thousands of teachers, parents and students swarmed over the south lawn in front of the Ontario Legislature on April 6 to protest a feared $1 billion cut in education funding anticipated in the April 11 provincial budget.

“The Catholic system will be the next target,” said public school teacher and Catholic parent Sean Boston, who came to the protest from Orangeville, Ont., with his wife Sonia and three children — Ariana, Ciara and Liam, who all attend St. Peter Separate School.

Retired Seneca College professor Mary McDermott, originally from Quebec, said Ontarians should not take Catholic education for granted. Cuts of this magnitude are a “prelude to getting rid of the Catholic system,” she said.

Though there was no official count of the crowd on Saturday, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association estimates there were 30,000 there, including about 8,000 from the Catholic school system.

The rally against education cuts was organized by five unions representing teachers in the public, Catholic and French systems, as well as non-teaching staff. It followed an April 4 walkout by over 100,000 students from some 700 schools across the province. On Saturday the unions bussed in teachers from Ottawa, Sudbury, Sarnia, Windsor and points in between on over 170 buses.

In between the student walkouts and the Queen’s Park rally, Education Minister Lisa Thompson issued a press release claiming the government was “modernizing the province’s education system.”

“We are putting our province on a path back to balance so that we can protect the core services that matter most — like education — while restoring fiscal sustainability to the people of Ontario,” Thompson said in the release.

There were no government representatives at the rally.

Kindergarten teacher Will Cochrane said the government’s every move is weakening publicly-funded education.

“I fear for the system,” said Cochrane, who came in from Woodstock, Ont., where he teaches at St. Patrick’s Catholic School. “I’m not so worried about my job. I’m worried about the education system.”

High school math teacher Patrick Fournier predicts chaos in classrooms as class sizes rise dramatically.

“I already have three classes with 33 in a room,” said the Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School teacher. “If I get more, I don’t know where I’m going to put them.”

Fournier believes many parents are unaware of the practical implications of increasing the average high school class size from 22 to 28.

“I just hope the message gets across that it’s really going to hurt kids,” said Fournier.

In a conflict between teachers and the provincial government, parents should understand that the teachers are on the side of the kids, said St. Mary’s High School special needs and science teacher Deb Carter from Owen Sound.

“I’m hoping there won’t be that division between teachers and parents, because ultimately our working conditions are their kids’ learning conditions,” said Carter, secondary unit president for OECTA in Bruce-Grey.

With province-wide negotiations coming up sometime after April 29, it’s too early to talk about strikes or lockouts, OECTA president Liz Stuart told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

“It is always our intention to engage in constructive dialogue and seek a settlement that works for all parties,” Stuart said. “The decision to undertake job action is not something that we take lightly and occurs only after all other avenues for settlement have been exhausted.”

At issue is the next generation’s chances if they’re forced through an underfunded public education system, said Boston. “What’s threatened is a chance for kids to have a future,” he said.

McDermott called the government’s statements on education policy “ridiculous.”

“Smaller class sizes help students, not larger class sizes,” she said.


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Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.