LILLEY: Opposition and unions scaring parents over back to school

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in London, Ont. Tuesday calling on the Ontario government to increase funding for school boards and reduce class sizes for elementary school students ahead of the start of classes. JONATHAN JUHA / Postmedia Network

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Communicating directly with parents is vital and buying ads to get the word out for back to school was the right thing to do, Premier Doug Ford said on Tuesday.

Ford was reacting to claims by the opposition and the assorted teachers’ unions claiming he was buying party propaganda with taxpayers’ dollars.

“I want to make sure that the message is communicated,” Ford said.

“It’s critical that the parents know.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the move “appalling.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Ford was putting thousands into ads and pennies into the classroom.

Teachers’ unions were outraged as well.

“Just shameful!” said the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

“Completely unconscionable!” said Liz Stuart the head of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

It’s bizarre that teachers’ unions were complaining about ads on the back to school plan given they’ve flooded the airwaves with their own ads.

Maybe the truth is they don’t want the competition.

They probably don’t want the truth out there either.

I’ve been hearing radio ads from the unions for weeks telling me that the government needs to do more.

Some ads have claimed the government has done nothing to deal with class sizes and won’t deal with ventilation issues.

Both claims are false, but part of a campaign to scare parents and the general public that children are being sent into harm’s way by going back to school.

Here is the reality of the Ford government’s back to school plan: It was developed in conjunction with medical experts including no fewer than nine doctors who work in the public health field. That includes the provincial chief medical officer and several doctors working for municipal public health units across the province.

There has been more than $900 million in new funding announced in the last few weeks including more than $30 million to hire new teachers and millions to spend on improving school ventilation.

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More than half of those funds are available for school boards to spend in the areas they need the most help in including hiring more teachers or renting out more space if they need it to accommodate social distancing.

“If there was a risk, I would not recommend the schools being opened,” Dr. David Williams said recently.

I can’t say that the government’s plan is perfect, but the ridiculous claim that children are heading for an “unsafe September” is nothing but fear mongering and politicking.

While Horwath, Del Duca and the unions play politics, the government is continuing to listen to medical experts including on how to deal with outbreaks.

At his update on Monday, Dr. Williams said he and other officials are working on a plan to react if and when cases appear in school.

“We’re working on a joint updated playbook with the ministry of education so that the school boards, the principals and staff know — they’ll answer those questions,” Dr. Williams said.

Letting parents know these things is important.

Telling them important facts like the radio ads do, that medical experts are helping devise a plan that includes hiring 500 public health nurses to go into schools will help with the anxiety parents are facing.

The ads in question aren’t partisan, they don’t feature politicians, they don’t use PC Party colours.

They convey vital information.

The ads, vetted by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, are part of the ongoing public awareness campaign the province has been running on COVID-19 since March.

“It’s been instrumental, this campaign, to make people aware of the protocols and the guidelines,” Ford said.

If Ford was running partisan ads, I’d be the first to call him on it but he’s not — he’s informing the public on what the government is doing to deal with a pandemic in schools.

That’s not something to criticize.

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