Proposed changes to Ontario's education system have raised questions, but comments made on social media by a local MPP appear to have raised some red flags.
Students across the province walked out of class last week to protest some of the Ontario government's changes to education, which include budget cuts and increasing class sizes. Over this past weekend, protests continued at Queens Park.
In response, MPP Rick Nicholls posted a comment on Facebook which read that some of the signs and chants aimed at the provincial government were disappointing to see.
"Disrespect is what the teachers and their unions are teaching kids. No wonder there is an apparent lack of respect in the classroom," said Nicholls in the Facebook post. "What goes around comes around teachers and unions."
The comment did not go over well with some, including Chatham teacher Jeff Phaneuf.
"Red flags went up for me when I read what [Nicholls] had written -- especially the threat at the end, 'what comes around goes around,'" said Phaneuf.
"I get there's going to be separate viewpoints -- there has to be, that's the way the world moves forward but you have to be able to talk and you have to be able to have compromises," he said. "When you talk to one another you have to have respect towards one another and it just didn't feel like there was any respect there."
Phaneuf was one of the thousands of people in Toronto over the weekend, taking a stance for education. He admitted that there were signs there that were "off-colour" but it's important to note, that those were not opinions that everyone there shared.
Nicholls issued a statement Monday regarding the Facebook post. He said he realizes that his opinions are not shared by everyone and called it "part of the democratic process".
"After hearing from parents at my constituency office on Friday that teachers had encouraged their students to protest even when they didn’t want to, and seeing what the signs were saying, I was very disappointed by this which prompted my statement," said Nicholls in an emailed statement. "Like I said on my previous posting, I have many very good teacher friends. Every time I visit the high schools in my riding, I am amazed at the diversity of well-informed opinions of students in the classes I address."
Officials with the St. Clair Catholic District School Board had previously said that although they were aware of the planned student protest, it was discouraged and not school-sanctioned. However, keeping the students' right to peacefully protest in mind, both the public and Catholic school boards opted not to suspend students who participated in the walk-out.
"When I ran for re-election last June, it was with a party that was making reforms to education a clear part of its proposed mandate. Respecting parents and students in education while tackling a $350 billion debt will be a continued balancing act for our government," said Nicholls. "The details being released this week in our 2019 budget should allay the fears being expressed online. We are open to all constructive suggestions to put students first in education and look forward to ongoing dialogue.”
Phaneuf said he had reached out to Nicholls on a previous matter where the two had agreed to meet and discuss matters related to education.
"He reached out to me and wanted to hear my concerns about education as a teacher, not as a citizen," said Phaneuf. "Rick and I are going to meet and talk and I'm sure we'll have a great conversation about both sides of the issue."
As to when that meeting will happen, Phaneuf said they are currently working out the details but he expects that it will be within the next few weeks.
Nicholls had mentioned in the emailed statement that further details regarding education policies will be released later this week. The Ford government is set to deliver its first budget on Thursday.