An outspoken member of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table — a group of scientific experts who provide weekly summaries of evidence to the provincial government, often helping form policy — was paid to be an advisor for a teachers' union to offer advice opposing Premier Doug Ford's school reopening plans, according to information uncovered by the Toronto Sun.
According to a document dating back to September 2020, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario hired David Fisman, currently a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, to present expert testimony on school reopenings, while he also served as a member of the science table.
A statement from Premier Ford's office described the situation as “deeply concerning.”
Doug Ford's office has released a statement saying that it's "deeply concerning" to learn that Science Table member David Fisman received payment from the ETFO teachers' union. pic.twitter.com/XLRFP1WqNX
— Anthony Furey (@anthonyfurey) January 27, 2021
Responding to a request for comment from the Sun, Fisman defended himself by saying that individuals on the science table are required to disclose conflicts of interest in six month intervals.
“My ETFO work arose within that time and so did not appear on the July 17 conflict-of-interest declaration,” Fisman told the Sun in an email response. “I’ve recently updated my (declaration) with the science table; I understand that the new forms will be uploaded to the website shortly as part of their normal operations.”
We have a Minister of Education who hasn't taken the most basic step of all (reducing class sizes to 15) to prevent COVID-19 from amplifying in communities, notwithstanding advice from within his own Ministry as well as outside experts.
— David Fisman (@DFisman) January 27, 2021
“In the meantime, my ETFO work since the fall has been very much in the public domain and transparent. My work with them has also been consistent with the scientific advice I’ve had the opportunity to offer, as one of more than 20 scientists with the science table,” Fisman added.
In the document obtained by the Sun, Fisman suggested that the province's fall reopening plan would lead to “illness and deaths” in the community, while offering smaller class sizes as one of the integral tools that could be used to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The push for smaller class sizes has been a long sought-after request of the ETFO, both during and in the years prior to the pandemic.
New U of Colorado lit review shows benefits of reducing class size, also long term costs of raising class size http://t.co/k2pUD03a5J #ETFO
— Elementary Educators (@ETFOeducators) February 19, 2014
Despite no deaths in school-aged children being caused by COVID-19, Fisman made no mention of the potential harms associated with keeping kids out of the classroom for extended amounts of time in his assessment on behalf of the ETFO. He is apparently the only member of the Science Advisory Table that has been publicly opposed to schools resuming in-person learning.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario's top doctor, has also suggested that in regards to the transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms, the evidence shows there has “hardly been any at all.”