Transcript: Stephen Lecce: Is Ontario's Back-to-School Plan Enough? | Sep 08, 2020

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and gray plaid tie.

A caption on screen reads "Is Ontario's back-to-school plan enough? @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says IN MARCH, SCHOOLS ACROSS THIS PROVINCE CLOSED THEIR DOORS TO PROTECT STUDENTS FROM COVID-19. THEY'VE ONLY JUST STARTED TO REOPEN AS TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS PREPARE FOR A STAGGERED START THAT BEGAN FOR SOME TODAY. PREMIER DOUG FORD SAYS THEY'VE PULLED OUT ALL THE STOPS, SPARED NO EXPENSE, THROWN EVERYTHING AT THIS PROBLEM. TEACHERS, PARENTS AND STUDENTS STILL HAVE QUESTIONS. AND A FEW DOUBTS. LET'S SEE IF WE CAN GET SOME CLARITY FOR THEM FROM ONTARIO'S MINISTER OF EDUCATION, STEPHEN LECCE. HE IS THE PC MEMBER FOR KING-VAUGHAN. AND HE JOINS US NOW FROM HIS MINISTRY OFFICE ON UNIVERSITY AVENUE ACROSS FROM QUEEN'S PARK...

Lecce is in his thirties, with short brown hair and a stubble. He's wearing a gray suit and a white shirt.

Steve continues AND MINISTER IT'S GOOD TO HAVE YOU AS OUR FIRST GUEST FOR THIS OUR FIRST PROGRAM OF SEASON 15. I WOULD JUST LIKE TO START WITH THIS: WHAT IS THE MOST UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION YOU HAVE AS TO WHAT PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS ARE GOING TO BE BACK IN THE CLASSROOM AT SOME POINT THIS MONTH AS OPPOSED TO LEARNING ONLINE?

The caption changes to "Stephen Lecce. Minister of Education."
Then, it changes again to "Day one."

Lecce says YOU KNOW, WE'RE ESTIMATING ABOUT 75 percent OF STUDENTS WILL BE IN CLASS, THE REMAINDER ONLINE. AND WE'RE THE ONLY PROVINCE IN THE COUNTRY THAT I AM AWARE OF THAT HAVE A CREDIBLE CONCURRENT PROGRAM OF TEACHING BOTH REMOTELY HAND IN CLASS. THAT'S A STRENGTH. AND I'M GRATEFUL FOR THE TEACHERS DOING EDUCATION ONLINE AND IN CLASS PROVIDE THAT GO MENTORSHIP AND LEADERSHIP AT A TIME WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE NEED IT.

Steve says WHAT DOES THAT 75 percent NUMBER SAY TO YOU ABOUT THE LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE THE PEOPLE OF ONTARIO HAVE ABOUT YOUR PLAN?

The caption changes to "Stephen Lecce, @sflecce."

Lecce says I DON'T PRESUPPOSE WHAT'S HAPPENING IN INDIVIDUAL HOMES, STEVE. YOU KNOW, AS YOU CAN APPRECIATE THERE ARE MANY PARENTS WITH COMPROMISED CHILDREN OR RESPIRATORY CHALLENGES THAT THE PARENT MAY HAVE OR LIVING WITH AN AGING PARENT OR GRANDPARENT. WE HAVE TO BE RESPECTFUL OF PARENTS' CHOICE. AND WE HAVE BEEN. WHAT I CAN TELL YOU IS THAT A CRITICAL MASS ARE CHOOSING IN-CLASS LEARNING THAT IS POSITIVE. IT WILL BE SAFE. BUT WE HAVE ALSO STRENGTHENED THE ONLINE OPTION BECAUSE WE BELIEVE WE SHOULDN'T HAVE AN UNEQUAL SYSTEM OF LEARNING. WE NEED TO BRIDGE THAT GAP AND MAKE SURE THE YOUNG PEOPLE GET ACCESS TO THEIR TEACHER THROUGH LIVE,,, SYNCHRONOUS LEARNING. ZOOM-STYLE LEARNING BUT LEARNING IS IMPORTANT.

Steve says I GUESS I SHOULD SAY IN FAIRNESS THAT DARN NEAR EVERYBODY I TALK TO THINKS KIDS NEED TO BE BACK IN THE CLASSROOM PROVIDED IT CAN BE DONE SAFELY. THAT IT'S IMPORTANT TO GET KIDS BACK INTO THE CLASSROOM. I GUESS WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS YOU'VE BEEN TAKING ADVICE FROM ALL SORTS OF PEOPLE TO MAKE SURE IT CAN HAPPEN SAFELY. WHEN IS THE LAST TIME YOU HAD A SIGNIFICANT AND-OR MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION WITH THE TEACHER REPRESENTATIVES... EITHER OF HEAD OF THE ELEMENTARY TEACHERS UNION OR THE SECONDARY TEACHERS UNION TO GET THEIR ADVICE?

The caption changes to "Stephen Lecce. PC MPP, King-Vaughan."
Then, it changes again to "Coming to the table."

Lecce says WELL, I'VE TASKED THE MINISTRY TO BE IN CONSTANT CONTACT WITH OUR PARTNERS ON THE GROUND INCLUDING OUR EDUCATORS. LIKEWISE OUR UNIONS AND OF COURSE OUR SCHOOL BOARDS. WE'VE HAD ROUGHLY OVER 200 MEETINGS SINCE WE CLOSED SCHOOLS IN MARCH WITH OUR TEACHER FEDERATIONS. WE VALUE THEIR OPINION, THE FRONT LINE.

Steve says WHEN'S THE LAST TIME YOU SPOKE TO THE HEADS OF THE TEACHERS' UNIONS?

Lecce says I WOULD HAVE REACHED OUT TO THEM... I WOULD HAVE HAD OUTREACH DURING THE SUMMER POINTS OF CONTACT STARTING WHEN WE FIRST CLOSED THE SCHOOLS REACHING OUT TO THEM THE IMPORTANCE OF COOPERATION. I THINK WHAT I STRESSED TO THEM THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC IS THAT WE ARE PREPARED TO LISTEN. OF COURSE THE DEFAULT HAS TO BE THE MEDICAL LEADERS WHEN DEALING WITH A PANDEMIC AND THAT'S WHAT WAVER DONE TO MAKE SURE IT'S BEING REFLECTED IN OUR PLAN FROM AN EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVE BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY I THINK WHAT PARENTS EXPECT IS THE FOCUS OF THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF KIDS MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY WHICH IS THE BASIS OF THE PLAN AND THE LAYERS OF PREVENTION.

Steve says YOU SAY YOU'RE PREPARED TO LISTEN. IF YOU HAVE BEEN LISTENING YOU WOULD KNOW THAT THEY THINK 30 KIDS AS MANY AS 30 KIDS IN A CLASSROOM IS FAR TOO MANY. THEY'RE DUBIOUS ABOUT THE AMOUNT OF DISTANCING THAT CAN TAKE PLACE AND WHETHER, OF COURSE... I SHOULDN'T DESCRIBE THEM THIS WAY... BUT SNOT-NOSED KIDS WHO WILL BE BRINGING ALL SORTS OF WHO KNOWS WHAT WITH THEM INTO THE CLASS MANY ROOM, WHETHER THAT CAN WORK. HAVE YOU LISTENED CAREFULLY ENOUGH TO THE ADVICE THAT THEY'VE PROFFERED?

Lecce says WE HAVE BEEN LISTENING ACROSS THE BOARD. I THINK WHAT PARENTS EXPECT US TO DO IS TO ENSURE THAT THE EVIDENCE, SCIENCE AND MEDICAL DIRECTION TRIUMPHS IN THE CONTEXT OF A PANDEMIC. WE APPRECIATE OUR FRONT-LINE WORKERS VERY MUCH. BUT I WOULD SUBMIT THAT THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER OF HEALTH, THE FOREMOST AND SENIOR-MOST AUTHORITY IN OUR PROVINCE WHO HAS ABLY GUIDED OUR PROVINCE THROUGH THE WORST OF THIS PANDEMIC HAS GIVEN HIS STAMP OF APPROVAL. I THINK Dr. WILLIAMS' ENDORSEMENT ALONG WITH MANY OTHER LEADING DOCTORS INCLUDING Dr. MOWATT, THE FORMER CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER HAVE BEEN CLEAR THAT THE PLAN WITH LAYERS OF PREVENTION IN PLACE CAN KEEP KIDS SAFE. AND WE ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO LISTEN TO THOSE DOCTORS BECAUSE WE HAVE TO BE RESPONSIVE TO THE RISK WHICH IS THE BASIS FOR OUR INVESTMENTS IN NURSING, FOR EXAMPLE, AND MORE CLEANING. IN TESTING. AND, OF COURSE, IN VIGOROUS SCREENING OF CHILDREN BEFORE THEY EVEN ENTER THE SCHOOLS.

Steve says YOU ARE QUITE RIGHT Dr. WILLIAMS HAS GIVEN THIS THE GOOD HOUSEKEEPING SEAL OF APPROVAL. BUT MAYBE YOU CAN EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE WHY... I WILL PULL THIS OUT OF THIN AIR HERE... APPARENTLY YOU CAN'T HAVE MORE THAN 50 FILM GOERS IN A THEATRE OF 400 BECAUSE OF CONCERNS ABOUT PEOPLE SITTING TOO CLOSE TOGETHER BUT YOU CAN PUT 30 CHILDREN IN A CLASS DESIGNED FOR 30 AND THAT'S OKAY. HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?

The caption changes to "Class sizes."

Lecce says FIRST OFF, IN THE CONTEXT OF WHAT DIFFERENTIATES THE EXPERIENCE, IN OUR SCHOOLS UNLIKE IN THAT THEATRE WE WILL HAVE COHORTS. MEANING A STAFF MEMBER IN A SCHOOL WILL INTERFACE WITH THE SAME GROUP OF STUDENTS. IT CAN BE IN HIGH SCHOOLS, FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE GTHA IT WILL BE 15 TO BE MORE PRECISE AND THOSE ADAPTIVE MODELS WE'VE IMPOSED ON THE BOARDS OF THE BECAUSE OF THE RISK AND IN ELEMENTARY WE'VE SEEN REDUCTIONS BELOW THE AVERAGES. WE'VE ENCOURAGED THE BOARD TO DO THAT AND THEY'VE BEEN FUNDED TO ENABLE THEM TO DO THAT. BUT GOING BACK TO THE QUESTION, IN SCHOOLS A EDUCATOR WILL SEE THE SAME 15, 20, 25 STUDENTS EVERY DAY COHORTED. THEY'VE ASKED THE PUBLIC HEALTH NURSES WHICH OF COURSE THAT CINEMA WOULD NOT. ACCESS TO TESTING ON SITE. IF PUBLIC HEALTH WANTS TO BRING IN THAT MOBILE CAPACITY, THAT WILL NOT EXIST, WE'RE MASKING IN OUR SCHOOLS WHICH NO PROVINCE HAS BEEN THE CLASSROOM. THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT ELEMENTS. WHAT'S IMPORTANT ABOUT OUR PLAN IS THAT WE ADHERE TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH ADVICE. THE OVERWHELMING EMERGING EVIDENCE THAT YOU CAN'T LOOK AT THIS IN ISOLATION ONE-OFF POLICY. THERE'S GOT TO BE A SUITE OF ACTIONS WHAT THE MEDICAL COMMITTEE CALLS LAYERS OF PROTECTION AND WE HAVE BROUGHT IN A COMPREHENSIVE, FULLY FUNDED THAT WILL ABLE THESE KIDS TO GET BACK AS YOU SAID AND AS I THINK MANY PEOPLE RECOGNIZE IT WAS JUST SO IMPORTANT FOR THE YOUNG PEOPLE'S DEVELOPMENT FOR THEIR HEALTH AND RESILIENCY WHEN THEY GET BACK INTO SCHOOLS.

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Steve says I TAKE YOUR POINT ON THE ISSUE OF COMPARING IT TO CINEMAS BUT ON THE OTHER HAND IF THE IDEA IS TO PREVENT OUTBREAKS OF COVID-19 IN SCHOOLS SURELY IT'S COMMON SENSE THAT THE FEWER PEOPLE YOU PUT INTO A CLASSROOM THE LESS LIKELY YOU'RE GOING TO GET A COVID OUTBREAK. IF THAT'S THE CASE WHY WOULD YOU NOT WANT COHORTS THAT ARE SMALLER AS OPPOSED TO LARGER?

Lecce says WELL, IT WAS OUR GOVERNMENT THAT DID TWO THINGS TO ENABLE SMALLER COHORTS AND SMALLER CLASSROOMS, MORE DISTANCING. FIRST OFF, WE IMPOSED ON THOSE HIGHER RISK COMMUNITIES QUITE A FEW ACROSS THE GTHA AND OTHERS. WE IMPOSED... CHILDREN IN THOSE HIGH SCHOOL CLASSES NO MORE THAN THAT COHORTED ALL DAY. WE'VE ALSO GIVEN BOARDS NORTH OF 170 MILLION DOLLARS JUST IN THE LAST MONTH WE GAVE AN ADDITIONAL 30 MILLION DOLLARS A MONTH PRIOR. WE'RE TALKING ABOUT 200 MILLION DOLLARS TO HIRE MORE STAFF. AND ALL SCHOOL BOARDS HAVE UTILIZED THOSE FUNDS. PROVINCIAL DOLLARS SOME FEDERAL DOLLARS AND EVEN RESERVE FUNDING AND TOGETHER THAT'S ENABLED THEM TO REDUCE THOSE CLASSROOM SIZES. IN TORONTO, FOR EXAMPLE, THEY'VE IMPOSED A CAP OF STUDENTS OF 15 IN THOSE HIGHER RISK COMMUNITIES.

Steve says LET ME SHOW YOU PICTURES BECAUSE YOU TOOK A FIELD TRIP THE OTHER DAY AND I WANT TO ACTUALLY PUT A PICTURE UP RIGHT NOW TO INDICATE...

A tweet by Premier Doug Ford pops up with a picture of himself and Minister Lecce visiting an empty classroom with separated desks.
Text next to the picture reads "This morning I visited Kensington Community School with @sflecce to see firsthand what's happening on the ground and to thank the many staff, teachers and medical experts for all the hard work that's gone into preparing for the most cautious back-to-school plan in the country.

Steve continues THERE'S PREMIER FORD IN A SCHOOL KENSINGTON COMMUNITY SCHOOL DOWNTOWN AND THIS LOOKS LIKE A VERY BRIGHT, YOU KNOW, WELL DISTANCED, THE DESKS LOOK VERY FAR APART. I HOPE YOU CAN SEE THIS PICTURE THAT WE'VE PUT UP HERE. THE DESK LOOKS FAR APART. IT LOOKS LIKE A GOOD, SAFE CLASSROOM AND THIS WAS THE FIELD TRIP THAT YOU AND THE PREMIER TOOK LAST WEEK. HOWEVER, YOU KNOW, HERE'S A DIFFERENT SHOT THAT A DIFFERENT TEACHER TOOK AFTER KINGSTON HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM THE SAME DAY. HE TOLD US HE'S EXPECTING 32 TO 34 KIDS TO BE IN HIS GRADE 12 CLASS AND THE SPACE BETWEEN THE DESKS IS A HALF A METRE NOT ONE OR TWO METRES WHICH IS THE RECOMMENDATION. MINISTER, HOW SAFE DOES THAT CLASSROOM LOOK TO YOU?

Another picture shows a classroom packed with desks.

Lecce says WELL, FIRST OFF, WHAT I'VE INDICATED ABOUT THOSE EARLY IMAGES, ON ONE HAND WE WERE TOLD THAT SCHOOL BOARDS HAVE YET TO FINALIZE THEIR... THE NUMBER OF STAFF AND STUDENTS WITHIN SCHOOLS BECAUSE PARENTS HAVE YET TO... MANY PARENTS... 5 TO 10 percent OF PARENTS HAVE YET TO MAKE THAT DETERMINATION. SO ON ONE HAND WE ARE DEALING WITH SCHOOL BOARDS HAVING TO RE-PROFILE THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS AND STAFF. SOME EDUCATORS ARE NOW BEING MOVED ONLINE BASED ON THE NUMBER OF PARENTS WHO HAVE OPTED THEIR CHILDREN TO GO REMOTE. THE POINT IS IN THE CONTEXT OF THAT PHOTO, WHAT WE EXPECT IS ONCE THOSE TIMETABLES HAVE BEEN ADJUSTED AND ONCE THOSE RATIOS HAVE BEEN NOTED, ONCE THAT INFORMATION HAS BEEN SHARED WITH THE SCHOOL BOARD WE ACTUALLY EXPECT A SCHOOL BOARD TO CHANGE THOSE REALITIES, REDUCE THE CLASSROOM SIZE, RE-PURPOSE EDUCATORS. RIGHT NOW, THEY'RE IN AN UNUSUAL POSITION OF HAVING TO ASSUME SORT OF CONSOLIDATE CERTAIN CLASSROOMS TOGETHER IN THE ABSENCE OF HAVING A CRITICAL MASS. NOW THAT MORE PARENTS ARE MAKING THOSE DECISIONS IT WILL ALLOW THEM TO SORT OF RECONSTITUTE THOSE GROUPS, SPREAD THEM OUT MORE AND ULTIMATELY ENSURE THAT WE GET THAT DISTANCING AS WELL AS THE MASKING.

Lecce says LET ME JUST BE SURE OF WHAT YOU'RE SAYING HERE. ADMITTEDLY THAT KINGSTON CLASS HAS NOT STARTED YET. BUT ARE YOU SAYING THAT ONCE IT DOES THAT THE PICTURE WE JUST SHOWED WOULD BE UNACCEPTABLE IN STEPHEN LECCE'S ONTARIO? IS THAT FAIR TO SAY?

Lecce says WHAT I AM SUGGESTING IS THAT THERE NEEDS TO BE DISTANCING IN ADDITION TO THE MASKING, AND HYGIENE, THE FOUNDATIONAL ELEMENTS THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER HAS SUGGEST. SCHOOL BOARDS KNOW OUR EXPECTATION. THEY'RE WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK TO DELIVER THAT AND THEY CONTINUE TO DO HIRING IN REAL-TIME. WHAT WE EXPECT IS THAT NOW THAT WE HAVE A BETTER SENSE OF THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS IN CHASE AND LIKEWISE ONLINE, IT'S TIME TO HIRE THOSE TEACHERS. RIGHT NOW SOME CLASSES ARE CONSOLIDATED BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE KNOWS NUMBERS. ONCE THAT NUMBER IS KNOWN AND WE KNOW THAT THERE ARE A A THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS IN GRADE 7 THAT'S GOING TO ENABLE THEM TO HIRE ANOTHER HOME ROOM TEACHER AND SPLIT UP ANY CLASSES THAT HAVE BEEN CONSOLIDATED TO DATE. I UNDERSTAND THIS IS JUST A HOLDING PATTERN. FURTHER CHANGES WILL HAPPEN.

Steve says WHAT ABOUT HOLDING CLASSES OUTDOORS BEFORE IT GETS TOO COLD. ARE THOSE OPTIONS BEING PURSUED?

Lecce says ABSOLUTELY. OUR GUIDANCE ENCOURAGES EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING. TORONTO SCHOOL BOARD HAS MADE THAT A PRIORITY AMONG MANY OTHER BOARDS. WE ARE ENCOURAGING EDUCATORS TO GET OUTSIDE. IT'S IMPORTANT FOR AIR QUALITY. OF COURSE WE ARE IMPROVING AIR VENTILATION IN THE PROVINCE AND WE'VE ALLOCATED 1.4 BILLION DOLLARS WELL BEFORE THE SUMMER FOR BOARDS TO IMPROVE AIR QUALITY IN SHORT AND MEDIUM-TERM PROJECTS. THEY'RE DOING THAT. EVERY SINGLE BOARD IN THE PROVINCE HAS DONE THAT. WE ADD AN ADDITIONAL 50 MILLION DOLLARS ON TOP OF THE RESERVE FUNDING TO DO THAT. WE ARE ENCOURAGING A DIFFERENT DELIVERY OF EDUCATION RECOGNIZING IT WILL BE A LITTLE DIFFERENT THIS YEAR. I CAN TELL YOU THAT MANY EDUCATORS WILL BE LOOKING TO THE FALL AND THE SPRING AND ALTERNATE COMMUNITY SPACES. THE CITY OF TORONTO, THE MINISTRY OF INFRASTRUCTURE ONTARIO AND OUR PROVINCE, WE ARE ALL WORKING WITH DIFFERENT SCHOOL BOARDS, MUNICIPALITIES ACROSS ONTARIO TO OFFER UP COMMUNITY SPACES AND SOME COOL BOARDS HAVE DONE THAT. MANY SCHOOLS HAVE JUST RE-PURPOSED THEIR CAFETERIAS, THE LIBRARIES AND ANY ANCILLARY SPACE IN THE SCHOOL FOR THE PURPOSE OF DELIVERING CLASSES WHICH IS VERY PRUDENT AND WE ARE HAPPY TO SEE IT. IN FACT WHEN I WAS WITH THE PREMIER AT THAT SCHOOL WE ACTUALLY SAW MANY INNOVATIVE SPACES THAT WEREN'T NORMALLY FOR ACADEMIC SPACES TO BE RE-PURPOSED AND I THINK THAT BUILDS CONFIDENCE TO SEE PRINCIPALS ADAPTING TO THE REQUIREMENTS.

Steve says LET ME ASK YOU ONE OF THE MORE CONTROVERSIAL DECISIONS YOU AND YOUR TEAM HAS HAD TO MAKE DURING THE COURSE OF ALL THIS WHICH IS NOT REQUIRING STUDENTS TO GET AN ALL-CLEAR COVID-19 TEST IF THEY HAVE HAD TO LEAVE THE SCHOOL OUT OF CONCERNS THAT THEY MATE HAVE COVID-19. WHY DID YOU MAKE THAT DECISION?

The caption changes to "In school infection."

Lecce says WELL, ALL THE MEDICAL OUTBREAK PROTOCOLS AND OUR HEALTH GUIDANCE HAS BEEN INFORMED AND DEVELOPED BY THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY JUST SO WE ARE CLEAR. CABINET HAS ENDORSED IT AND SUPPORTED IT. WHAT WE HAVE SAID IS THAT LOCAL HEALTH AUTHORITIES AT TIMES WILL, IN FACT, SAY TO THE STUDENTS OR THE COHORT OR THE CLASS OR SECTION OF THE SCHOOL THAT A TEST MAY BE REQUIRED. SO THAT IS A... THAT CAN BE COMPELLED AND DIRECTED BY THE LOCAL HEALTH AUTHORITY. I THINK WHAT WE'VE SAID IS THAT IT'S NOT ALWAYS GOING TO BE THE CASE BECAUSE IT'S BASED ON THE RISK AND PROXIMITY OF THOSE OTHER STUDENTS TO THAT CHILD THAT MAY HAVE A POTENTIAL CASE OF COVID OR IN SOME CASE AS POSITIVE CASE OF COVID. EITHER WAY, THE SOLUTION IS SCREENING, ISOLATION, AND WHEN REQUIRED, YES, OF COURSE, PUBLIC HEALTH IS GOING TO ENCOURAGE STUDENTS TO GET TESTED. LIKEWISE EDUCATORS. WE'VE MASSIVELY AS A PROVINCE IMPROVED OUR TESTING CAPACITY TO 26 TO 30,000 TESTS A DAY REDUCING THE WAITING TIMES FOR THOSE TESTS AND OUR WAIT TIME IS ALSO ENHANCED BY THE FACT THAT WE ARE UNVEILING ASYMPTOMATIC TESTING OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN THE PROVINCE WHICH IS ANOTHER UNIQUE DIFFERENTIATOR THAT WILL IN PART HELP MITIGATE RISK AND WE'VE GOT A DOUBLING OF THE PUBLIC HEALTH NURSES IN OUR SCHOOL. AGAIN, JUST FOR CONTEXT, 450-ODD PUBLIC HEALTH NURSES AS OF 2019 THIS YEAR WE ARE GOING TO HAVE AN ADDITIONAL 625. IT'S A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE. IT'S GOING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR OUR EDUCATORS ON THE GROUND AND LIKEWISE FOR THE KIDS JUST TO MAKE SURE THAT THERE'S SOMEONE THERE TO SUPPORT WITH SYMPTOM RELIEF.

Steve says LET ME ASK YOU ABOUT EDUCATORS YOU MENTIONED EDUCATORS ON THE GROUND AND I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THEM. IF A TEACHER FEELS THAT HE OR SHE IS NOT SAFE IN A CLASSROOM MAYBE THEY CAPTAIN GET THE DESKS MORE THAN A METRE APART. WHO KNOWS? MAYBE THE SCHOOL RAN OUT OF MASKS. WHO KNOWS WHAT THE REASON IS. IF THEY FEEL THAT THEY'RE UNSAFE IN A CLASSROOM CAN THEY DECLINE TO GO TO WORK IN STEPHEN LECCE'S ONTARIO?

The caption changes to "Fear and loathing."

Lecce says WELL, IN THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO OBVIOUSLY THE MINISTRY OF LABOUR SENDS IN INSPECTORS BASED ON A COMPLAINT BASIS. SO WHEN THERE ARE ISSUES RAISED, THE MINISTRY OF LABOUR AND THE MINISTER OF LABOUR HAS SAID VERY MUCH THAT THIS PROCESS IS ARM'S LENGTH WILL ABSOLUTELY DEFAULT THROUGH ANY COMPLAINT. THERE WILL BE A RIGOROUS REVIEW. THE SAFETY OF OUR STAFF AND THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS IS CRITICAL AND, OF COURSE, I KNOW EMPLOYERS IN THIS CASE BOARDS, NOT THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION TAKE THAT RESPONSIBILITY SERIOUSLY FOR THEIR STAFF. THEY'RE VERY COMMITTED TO THAT SORT OF EDUCATION FAMILY WANT TO KEEP THEM SAFE WHICH IS THE BASIS FOR WHY WE ARE PROVIDING ALL TEACHERS TRAINING AS WELL AS PPE.

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Steve says YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE SOME TEACHERS... WE SAW THIS STORY THE OTHER DAY... SOME TEACHERS ARE UPDATING THEIR WILLS. THERE ARE SOME TEACHERS WHO ARE VERY NERVOUS OUT THERE. I GUESS IF YOU ARE A TEACHER IN YOUR 60s THIS WOULD BE PARTICULARLY CONCERNING. WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HAVE FOR THEM?

Lecce says LOOK, I APPRECIATE THAT THERE'S A GREAT LEVEL OF ANGST ACROSS THE POPULATION. WE ARE LOOKING ESPECIALLY IN THE UNITED STATES LOOKING AT IMAGES THAT ARE VERY DISTRESSING I THINK FOR ALL OF US AS A SOCIETY. I THINK MY MESSAGE IS YOU JUST POINT TO THE FACT THAT CANADA AND ONTARIO ARE UNIQUELY POSITIONED TO RESPOND. OUR TRACK RECORD AS A PEOPLE AND AS A GOVERNMENT TO DATE HAS ALLOWED US TO FUNDAMENTALLY HELP REDUCE THE RISK. WE'VE SEEN THE FLATTENING OF THE CURVE OVER TIME BECAUSE WE'VE LISTENED TO Dr. WILLIAMS AND ADHERED TO PUBLIC HEALTH ADVICE. BECAUSE WE'VE ALL DONE OUR PART. MY MESSAGE TO EDUCATORS IS IF WE CONTINUE TO WORK TOGETHER AS A SOCIETY AND ENSURE AN ABSOLUTE ADHERENCE TO OUR SCHOOLS, PLAYGROUNDS AND COMMUNITIES. I WANT TO KNOW THAT WE'VE GOT THEIR BACK. THAT'S WHY WE ARE PROVIDING PPE, PROVIDING HEALTH AND SAFETY. MORE NURSES ON-SITE AND ENHANCING OUR TESTING CAPACITY. IF THEY WANT TO BE TESTED ON A REGULAR BASIS THEY CAN BE.

Steve says MINISTER I KNOW YOU'VE GOT A CRAZY BUSY DAY. LET ME JUST ASK YOU ONE LAST QUESTION. IF THE PLAN YOU HAVE LAID OUT WORKS AND WE HAVE... NOBODY'S EXPECTING PERFECTION... BUT IF WE HAVE RELATIVELY FEW CASES OF COVID-19 IN THE SCHOOLS AND THE YEAR IS ABLE TO PROCEED FAIRLY SAFELY, YOU WILL WITH JUSTIFICATION, I WOULD SAY TAKE THE CREDIT FOR A GOOD PLAN PUT FORWARD. IF THIS DOESN'T WORK, IF THE SCHOOLS BECOME I DON'T WANT TO SAY OVERRUN. BUT IF WE GET TOO MANY CASES OF COVID-19 AND THE MEDICAL OFFICER OF HEALTH GETS CONCERNED AND SAYS TO YOU AND THE PREMIER I'M SORRY BUT YOU'VE GOT TO SHUT THE SCHOOLS DOWN AGAIN, WILL YOU TAKE THE BLAME?

The caption changes to "Shut it down (again)?"

Lecce says LOOK, I THINK WHAT I WILL POINT TO CONSISTENTLY IS THAT THE RISK IN HOUR SCHOOLS IS REFLECTIVE OF THE RISK WITHIN OUR COMMUNITIES AND WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY AND AN OBLIGATION AS A CIVIL SOCIETY TO MAKE SURE THAT WE DO EVERYTHING HUMANLY MOB TO ENABLE A CHILD TO LEARN IN THIS PROVINCE. AND SO I THINK WHAT I WOULD POINT TO HISTORICALLY AS A PEOPLE, AS A PROVINCE THAT OUR PEOPLE HAVE LED THE WAY OF THE PREMIER SAYS IT ALL THE TIME IT'S NOT HIM. IT'S NOT ANY ONE POLITICIAN. IT'S THE POPULATION DOING THEIR PART, SACRIFICING...

Steve says I GET YOU. BUT YOU'RE THE EDUCATION MINISTER AND I SUSPECT PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR THAT THE BUCK STOPS WITH ME. IF IT WORKS I TAKE THE CREDIT IF IT DOESN'T I'M RESPONSIBLE.

Lecce says I'M NOT HERE TO TAKE CREDIT. I'M HERE TO PROVIDE A PROTOCOL THAT WILL ENABLE STUDENTS TO BE SAFE. THE BENCHMARK IS TO GET KIDS CONTINUE LEARNING IN OUR PROVINCE. WE HAVE MANY BACKSTOPS TO ENSURE THAT'S THE CASE FROM AN ONLINE PERSPECTIVE. BUT AS I INDICATED OFF THE TOP, THE RISK IN OUR SCHOOLS IS REFLECTIVE OF OUR COMMUNITY. IF WE CONTINUE TO KEEP THAT RISK DOWN AROUND CONTINUE TO DO OUR PART WE CAN ENSURE WITH SUCCESS THAT OUR KIDS CAN LEARN AND DO SO IN A SAFE MANNER. I THINK THAT'S IMPORTANT FOR THEM, FOR THEIR MENTAL HEALTH AND THE RESILIENCE OF THEM AND LIKEWISE IMPORTANT FOR THE PARENTS OF THIS PROVINCE THAT WANT TO GET BACK INTO THE LABOUR MARKET... HAVE YET TO DO SO. SO THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS. WE'LL CONTINUE TO LISTEN TO THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER. THIS PLAN IS FULLY FUNDED AND EVIDENCE-INFORMED AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE THERE FOR OUR STUDENTS. WE'LL DO WHATEVER IT TAKE FC WE HAVE TO SCALE IT UP WE WILL DO MORE TO RESPOND TO THE RISK THIS FALL.

The caption changes to "Producer: Harrison Lowman, @harrisonlowman."

Steve says THAT'S STEPHEN LECCE, THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION FOR THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO. MINISTER WE ARE GRATEFUL THAT YOU SPARED SO MUCH TIME FOR US ON TVO. THANKS AND GOOD LUCK.

Lecce says THANK YOU.

Watch: Stephen Lecce: Is Ontario's Back-to-School Plan Enough?