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Ford government ignored its own experts to save money, placing students, educators at risk

January 21, 2021

Toronto—Today’s Toronto Star article clearly exposes the repeated failures of the Ford government to keep Ontario’s students, educators and education workers safe.

“At a time when strong, protective health measures were needed, this government chose instead to move forward with reckless and irresponsible ‘let’s fool them into thinking we’re doing something’ safety protocols,” said Sam Hammond, President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). “We need less smoke and mirrors, and more effective, evidence-based strategies to address COVID-19 in schools. We needed them in the spring and we need them today.”

Internal Ministry of Education documents related to Ontario’s return-to-school plan show that safety proposals were dialed back or abandoned entirely. “How are Ontarians to trust a government that disregards the advice of medical and health experts, and their own staff to save money? This calls into question the ability of the Minister of Education to keep students and staff safe,” noted Hammond.

“The chaos students, educators and families are experiencing now is a direct result of this government’s refusal to make necessary investments and to implement appropriate safety measures in the fall. Despite being told by their own Ministry staff that they needed to reduce class sizes, implement asymptomatic surveillance testing and enhance safety protocols, they refused to do so. Ontarians should be furious with this government; they have fueled the spread of this virus through their inaction and their ignorance,” said Hammond.

ETFO has repeatedly called on the province to provide funding to school boards to implement increased safety measures to ensure a safe return to in-class learning. These safety measures should include: risk assessments for every classroom where students are learning in person; higher-grade personal protective equipment (PPE); enhanced and more frequent cleaning protocols in in-person classrooms; portable air purification units and carbon dioxide monitors for all classrooms that are open; evidence of completion of a COVID-19 screener; reduced class sizes; and expanded voluntary, broad-based asymptomatic testing throughout Ontario.

Added Hammond, “The Ford government’s constant fumbling of the education file has been a recurring theme since they took office. Minister Lecce must be held accountable for his failure to protect Ontario’s students and staff. However, at the end of the day, the crisis we’re in falls at the feet of Premier Ford. His government has repeatedly failed to contain this virus, resulting in chaos and continued school closures across Ontario.”

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. Its Building Better Schools education agenda can be viewed at BuildingBetterSchools.ca.

Media Contact: Carla Pereira, ETFO Media Relations, 416-576-9074, cpereira@etfo.org.