LegalWills is offering Ontario education workers free wills and Health Care Power of Attorney documents in August as debate continues over how to reopen schools safely in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We wanted to do our part to support the education workers who are returning to school and risking their own health and safety during these uncertain times,” said Tim Hewson, the estate planning company’s chief executive officer and co-founder in a release last week.
“As a parent of two young daughters, I’ve seen first hand the effects this pandemic is having on our education system, its staff, and our children,” he added.
The company, who has its Canadian head office in Ottawa, has set up a website for workers to apply for the services, with the promotion extended to any education worker that is employed within a school, including principals, librarians, teachers, educational assistants, office administrators and custodial staff.
LegalWills also offered frontline health care workers similar services free of charge earlier in the summer.
Hewson told Global News on Tuesday, the promotion is not intended as a publicity stunt or a political statement.
“Our position with wills are they are not written in contemplation of your end. I have a will and I have no intention of going anywhere. We regard estate planning as responsible financial planning.”
However Hewson admitted, “It is a little bit polarizing, but this is the service we offer, we have a will service. This is what we can do for people we can give it to them for free, if it doesn’t sit right with you then sorry, but we have had 99 per cent of people thanking us for the offer.”
Speaking to Global News Radio, TDSB high School teacher Jason Kunin said he is preparing his will.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with colleagues and friends over the past several weeks, we have been exchanging names of legal firms and lawyers,” Kunin said.
“I think the circumstances right now are making this a lot more urgent for people.”
Kunin said one of the big concerns he has as September approaches is about the physical space where he’ll be working and the safety of it.
“Where I teach, my classroom is in a wing of a school that was built in the 60s. It’s recycled air. I have great big windows but they don’t open, some of the people in my section don’t even have windows at all and I’ve had respiratory issues.”
Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto, said: “I wrote my will just to have it safe because I had the fear, just like many people, of getting the coronavirus.”
But Banerji added the promotion may unnecessarily heighten anxiety among the education community.
“I think it feeds into the fear that many teachers have about going back to school that there is a higher probability of them dying than is really the case.”
Banerji said there are many unknowns about the impact reopening schools will have, but the concern, however, needs to be balanced rationally.
“The teacher is at some risk of getting infected. I think that is a possibility for sure, but as we know more about coronavirus, if they are otherwise healthy, then most of them will have not severe symptoms,” she said.
“There probably will be a small percentage of them that will have more long-term symptoms, and the ones that have underlying chronic diseases or comorbidities or older age they are at higher risk.”
“I think everyone should have a will, if members can take the opportunity to have that in place, great,” said Laura Walton, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employee’s (CUPE) Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
However, “I think this is somewhat of a fatalistic view,” Walton added.
“I think before we start writing wills, we need to put pens to paper writing MPPs, writing letters to the editors, writing our trustees in the hopes the government will provide the funding needed to make this a safe reopening.”
The Ontario government has committed $309 million in new funding for September’s reopening. Enhanced measures include masking for students in grades 4 to 12, additional staffing, extra cleaning supplies, health and safety training and more.
“This concern and anxiety is piquing because the government has not put in place the kind of supports Ontarians, not just education workers, but parents too are looking for,” said NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles.
She said the government is not taking those concerns seriously.
“They would have not have introduced the kind of bargain basement plan if they were taking seriously the concern of families. I think the government is banking on people keeping their kids home — that is not an option for so many families.”
Global News reached out to Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office for comment, however they declined.