Human Chain of Parents, Teachers, Students Outside Westmount High Protests Austerity

  • Chants of “No special cuts” echoed outside Westmount High School Thursday morning, as a line of students, parents and teachers formed a human chain to protest budgetary cuts implemented by the provincial Liberal government. Photo Jonathan Caragay-Cook

  • Zac Wolofsky, a Westmount High student in grade 10, says that the fall soccer team he planned to play for got cut in the summer, along with all other fall sports. Photo Jonathan Caragay-Cook

Chants of “No special cuts” echoed outside Westmount High School Thursday morning, as a line of students, parents and teachers formed a human chain to protest budgetary cuts implemented by the provincial Liberal government.

“We’re out here to send a message to the Liberal government that it is absolutely irresponsible to balance the province’s books on the back of our students,” said Robert Green, a social sciences teacher at Westmount High.

The demonstration on Ste. Catherine St. marks one of approximately 300 public schools around Quebec that pledged to form human chains today.

“In that context of deep budget cuts, the government is proposing things that will have serious ramifications to students,” Green said.

Photo Jonathan Caragay-Cook

One of the looming promises is increasing class sizes from the current 24-26 student maximum, and the most vulnerable to this change are students with special needs, Green says.

Currently, a weighting system in place counts students with special needs as more than one student when determining the size of a class, to give teachers more time to work with them. Counting more students with special needs in one class usually means the size of that class is reduced, according to Green.

If there is no reduction, then the school board is obliged to hire a childcare worker to assist the teacher. The government is currently proposing to remove these measures, Green says.

“If teachers aren’t getting what they need, then students won’t get what they need,” said Ema Begum, a Westmount High graduate and Dawson College student.

“If teachers aren’t getting what they need, then students won’t get what they need,” said Ema Begum, a Westmount High graduate

Begum says that her time at Westmount was a delight and that teachers were always there to assist her, even during afterschool hours. “I got the help I needed, and I think the future generations deserve it too,” she said.

Among the parent contingent was Kate Marien, who saw four sons graduate at Westmount High and is an elementary teacher in the West Island. Having worked with many students with special needs, she says that there is no way larger class sizes and reduced resources will be beneficial to anyone.

“It’s basically a recipe for less learning,” Marien said. Teachers and parents from the Westmount Park Elementary School also took part in the demonstration, according to Green.

Westmount High has also faced cuts to “resource teachers,” Green adds. The school employs four teachers to run a resource centre where students can receive extra help. Green says this centre is a successful model that allows for better integration from the lower grades into the higher ones.

Many extracurricular activities have been cut as well. Zac Wolofsky, a Westmount High student in grade 10, says that the fall soccer team he planned to play for got cut in the summer, along with all other fall sports.

“When I first got to Westmount three years ago, it was much freer,” he said. “You could pick and choose different activities.”

“We cannot accept what the government is doing because it literally means the destruction of public education in Quebec,” Green said. “Future teachers—maybe even at Concordia—need to understand the dire situation we’re in.”

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