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CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Health expert on Ford's science table who spoke against school reopening received money from teachers union

David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, was paid by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.

Elie Cantin-Nantel Ottawa ON

Those who were wondering why Ontario was the only jurisdiction in the country where schools were not opened for in-person learning might have an answer.

This week, the Toronto Sun reported that one of the people on Doug Ford's science table, who argued strongly for keeping schools closed, had received money from one of Ontario's largest teachers union.

David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, received money from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario. They are in favour of keeping schools closed, a position Fisman advocated.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's office calls this "deeply concerning" and Dr. Euzebiusz Jamrozik, from the bioethics research centre at Oxford University told the Toronto Sun, "Where a person receives payment for speaking on behalf of a special interest group, it would almost certainly be appropriate to declare this as a potential conflict of interest when working in roles that are even slightly related."

As an Ontario student, I find that on top of being a conflict of interest, this is an extremely disgusting act. The long-term school closures that began in the spring were among the worst decisions government has made. The cost to benefit ratio was poor and students were impacted both academically and mentally. I know this on a personal level.

As I reported in a previous article concerning the campaign started by Ontario students to Reopen Ontario's Schools, grade averages, attendance, and completion rates all dropped during the closures. The situation was so bad that the government had to change its grading policy so that the grades students obtained while learning at home didn't bring down their final grade. I certainly would have failed my courses if it wasn't for their policy, and I was an A student in the classroom. This is not a policy that was adopted by Ontario alone, but in school districts across North America, from New York, Virginia, Washington, and so many others.

On top of the poor academic performances, 83 percent of teens have said that their mental health has decreased, and 20 percent of students have dealt with high stress levels due to the closures and their inability to engage in any kind of normal lifestyle. One-in-four young persons has contemplated suicide, and prescriptions for antidepressant medication increased by 34 percent in that age group.

None of that seems to matter to Ontario Teacher's Unions. Their big talk about "caring about students" during the 2019 teacher strikes was a bunch of lies. What is ironic, is that teachers cited a government plan to increase e-learning in high schools as one of their reasons why they were striking, but now they're giving money to health "experts" that advocate for universal e-learning from kindergarten to Grade 12.

From my personal experience, it's obvious teachers and their unions like to use high school students as their political pawns, something that we saw twice during the 2018-2019 school year when mass amounts of students walked out in protest of issues which they barely knew or cared about. They were spurred on under their teachers' influence.

What is also unfortunate is that many student trustees—grade 11 and 12 students elected to represent students on their board—don't seem too concerned about school closures. Nothing about reopening schools can be found Ontario Student Trustees Association's (OSTA) website. It seems that they are more concerned about microaggressions, and feminine products in school bathrooms—which are inaccessible during closures anyway—than a severely harmful and ideological government policy that is causing an academic and mental health crisis.

I reached out to OSTA to ask why they have not been advocating for the immediate safe reopening of schools. Their communications person responded by saying they did not currently have a stance on school reopenings, and directed me to a statement regarding the government's original announcement that high schools would be closed for three weeks.

In that statement, the organization called schools closures "crucial" and concluded by saying "We would like to thank the government for keeping students' health and safety a priority." I was also told that one of the reasons why they don't currently have a stance on closures is that they're "not health experts." However, if they're not heath experts, why did they call school closures "crucial" in December?

You don't have to be a health expert to look at the data and conclude that there is no merit for closing schools. COVID-19 only impacted 0.3 percent of Ontario students, and most of those students caught COVID-19 in their communities, not in schools. A study showed that 87 percent of the students that came to school with COVID-19 after contracting it in the community did not transmit it to anyone. Meaning only 0.00039 percent of Ontario students transmitted COVID-19 to their peers or teachers.

That doesn't matter to OSTA and their allies in the teachers union. These are the same unions that pay health experts who advocate for  school closures despite their remarkable harms and lack of scientific basis. These are the same unions that held long strikes in the fall of 2019, which impacted special needs students, like my brother, the most.

I hope that parents and students will finally understand that unions are not here to advocate for the needs of those they educate but for their own desires. Teachers unions are here to ensure that teachers make the highest possible salary while doing the least possible amount of work. As long as student leaders keep on backing them, then the majority of students will continue to be held back from educational prosperity.

I reached out to the Elemtary Teachers' Federation of Ontario for comments prior to writing this article, they kindly directed me to this statement.

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