LILLEY: Ontario's top doc says send 'em to school; Ford wants teachers to 'step up

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The question many Ontario parents are asking right now is whether they should send their kids back to school.

There is understandable anxiety, there are very real questions, and then there is the fearmongering from Ontario’s opposition parties and the unions representing teachers.

Teachers’ unions have adopted the claim that back to school means an “unsafe September.”

So, I put a simple question to the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Williams.

“Would you recommend for your children or grandchildren to go back to school, as students or teachers, this September?” I asked.

“Yes, I would,” Williams replied.

Williams called it a thorough plan, even citing all the different medical experts consulted on it. From Sick Kids Hospital, to the provincial health and scientific tables on COVID-19, the various provincial and national committees consulting on the pandemic response to the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization, all have added input.

I can count and point to at least nine specific doctors who were consulted directly on the plan and all of them work and practice in the public health field. This week the province even added Dr. Dirk Huyer to oversee the response to any outbreaks in schools.

Despite this, teachers’ unions are claiming their members are not safe. They accuse the Ford government of putting the children of the province in harm’s way, death’s door really, because they are not spending enough.

By Thursday, Ford had enough of the union taunts.

“The teachers’ unions have to get with the program right now and do what everyone else is doing across the country, all pulling in the same direction,” Ford said, noting many Ontarians — from retail staff to truckers, health workers to manufacturing workers — have remained on the job throughout the pandemic.

“Now is the time for teachers to step up,” he said.

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Over the past few weeks, the Ford government has announced more than $900 million in funding for a safe school reopening. This includes $30 million to hire new teachers, $60 million to supply teachers and all staff with medical masks and to supply cloth masks for students who can’t afford one or show up without one.

There is another $75 million for hiring more than 1,000 additional custodians and buying extra cleaning supplies as well as $50 million to update ventilation systems. The biggest portion of that new available funding is close to $500 million for local board priorities.

The province hasn’t mandated class sizes as low as some of the teachers’ unions want but have told boards they have the flexibility to do what is needed to ensure health protocols, including social distancing, can be met. That means boards can rent more space if need be, hire more teachers, spend more on cleaning – basically look after local needs.

That is as it should be, a bureaucrat in downtown Toronto doesn’t know what a school in Deep River or Thunder Bay will need but their local board will.

What the teachers’ unions and the opposition parties have decided to do is revisit the fights that were taking place before the pandemic hit.

Despite Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca taking to social media and asking if Ford wants teachers to sacrifice their lives by going back into the classroom with the current back-to-school plan, the proof is in the pudding. Del Duca told Toronto’s Global 640 Radio that he will send his own kids back to school.

Just like Dr. Williams would recommend.

As for teachers being more at risk, Dr. Williams was asked if they will be more at risk than say, workers in a grocery store?

“I don’t think they’ll be at more risk than other people, if you do all the infection control practice, as we’re supposed to do,” Williams said.

Teachers keep telling me I should listen to the experts when it comes to education. On this very real medical issue, maybe they should listen to the doctors.

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