NORTH BAY -- For the first time since 1997, education workers in Ontario’s French school board system are on the picket lines, including a group in front of Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli’s office in North Bay.

More than 12,000 Franco-Ontarian teachers and support workers with the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens are walking off the job Thursday as part of an one-day province-wide strike.

This is the first planned walkout affecting French schools and AEFO says it’s protesting against the Ford government’s proposed mandatory e-learning courses and increase in class sizes.

"We work with these children every day, many with great needs," said local AEFO president Nathalie Drolet.

After an initial work-to-rule campaign, the French education union announced it would be launching phase 3 of its job action.

Thursday’s picket is expected to be followed by weekly province-wide strikes by the union.

This is all part of the bid to put more pressure on the government as months of contract talks remain at a standstill.

"The funds are being cut. We have less help and we want to do what’s best for these kids, but it’s really when you don’t have the human resources," said Drolet.

Meanwhile, in a statement to CTV News, Fedeli is calling on union leaders to work with the government to end the strikes to keeps students in the classrooms:

"Continued escalation of job action by the teachers’ unions has gone on far too long. Students across the province are being hurt by the withdrawal of services and loss of classroom time." 

Ontario's French schools will reopen on Friday.