Students at some 600 Ontario schools plan to protest the provincial government’s education changes by walking out of class on Thursday afternoon.

The demonstrations are scheduled for 1:15 p.m. ET, and students from both elementary and high schools say they intend to participate. The province-wide walkout was organized by students on social media, mainly Instagram, with the hashtag #StudentsSayNo.

A viral post by Natalie Moore, a Grade 12 student at Listowel District Secondary School in Listowel, Ont., started the movement, and it quickly snowballed as her friends around Ontario shared it in their own Instagram stories.

Moore says she was deeply troubled by the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to increase average required class sizes in intermediate and high school grades in the province.

“I emailed my MPP, and when I didn’t hear back from him I really wanted to do something,” Moore told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Thursday.

“I felt like students weren’t aware, or they wouldn’t do the research into the cuts. They might hear about them, but I didn’t know how much detail they would know.”

We aren’t doing this to skip class. We aren’t doing this because teachers told us to. We are doing this because we are angry. we will not sit back and watch our education be ruined by adults who see us as nothing. #StudentsSayNo

—@melino_juliana

Amina Vance, a Grade 12 student at Western Technical-Commercial School In Toronto, helped Moore organize the protest. She said bigger class sizes —which school boards have warned could result in job losses for teachers and decreases to the kinds of courses offered at individual schools — will be devastating, particularly for students with special needs or other challenges.

“I think the government needs to see — and the government will see by 2 p.m. today — that the students are heartbroken and the students are angry. We are astounded they would do this to us, especially to marginalized students, who are already struggling in our school system,” she said on Metro Morning.

“We are showing them that students are informed, that students are angry and that students are ready to make a difference.”

You can listen to the whole interview with Moore and Vance below:

Two students organisers of today’s protest — Amina Vance and Natalie Moore — are in studio. The walkout is to draw attention to the student’s concerns about larger class sizes, lack of support for autistic students, rolled-back sex ed and other issues. 12:20

During question period at the Ontario legislature on Thursday, however, Premier Doug Ford said the student walkout is “about the union bosses telling the teachers and the students what to do.

“Our teachers have a responsibility to the parents, to the students, to make sure they stay in the classrooms and teach the students,” he continued.

“It’s absolutely shameful they’re using our students for a bunch of pawns,” Ford added.

A student posted this image of a protest sign on Twitter. (@kayluahs/Twitter)

Schools preparing for protest

Individual schools and boards in the Toronto area sent letters home to parents saying that administrators are aware of the planned walkout and that they will work to ensure student safety, while noting that the protests are not school-sanctioned events.

“As a school board, we encourage students to be well-informed about issues in our society, to think critically and to express themselves respectfully and responsibly in articulating views they may have,” wrote the Toronto District School Board, the largest in the province.

Meanwhile, Clarkson Secondary School in Mississauga, west of Toronto, said it will “respect and support the right of students to advocate for causes that are important to them,” but asked parents to encourage their children to remain on school property during the walkout.

“If your teen is planning to participate in the walkout, please talk with them about why they want to participate. Share your perspective on the issue and how you would like to see things resolved. If your teen chooses to walk out, please ask them to make safe choices and to be respectful in their participation,” the school wrote in a message posted to its website.

The protest action comes weeks after Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government announced considerable and controversial education reforms. The changes include increased class sizes for intermediate and secondary grades, as well as new math and sex-ed curricula and mandatory E-learning modules.

we walk out today. to young people: be brave, be bold, do not let them tell you what you know or what you deserve. get up. walk out. we got this. 💓 #StudentsSayNo

—@rayneydaes

The average class size requirement for Grades 9 to 12 will be adjusted to 28, up from the current average of 22, while the average class size for Grades 4 to 8 will increase to 24.5, up slightly from 23.84.

The decision to increase some class sizes has drawn sharp criticism from some educators, as well as from unions and some parents.

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson ignited controversy when she said in an interview last month bigger classes will make students more resilient and more prepared for the workforce.

Moore says she believes that Thompson’s comments “are an excuse to cut funding and balance the budget.

“That shouldn’t come at the cost of our world-class education system.”

today, thousands of kids are going to walk out in protest of doug ford’s education cuts. thousands of kids have decided that staying silent isn’t good enough for them. thousands of kids have decided they deserve a voice. #studentssayno

—@deelxn

For her part, Vance says that larger class sizes will mean that the students who need help the most simply won’t get it.

“I see in my school every day, teachers are front-line on the mental health crisis. And teachers are dealing with those crises, student crises, every single day.”

In the lead-up to the walkout, students were posting a flurry of messages on social media, such as this video:

RETWEET THIS IF YOU CARE ABOUT YOUR EDUCATION #STUDENTSSAYNO pic.twitter.com/iSUL68htcJ

—@adamkellogs

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