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School board trustee faces backlash for taking family on North American road trip

A North American road trip by a London, Ont., school board trustee and his large family is being called irresponsible and dangerous by public health officials and others.

9 members of the Skinner family have travelled west to Alberta, then south to Nevada since September

The Skinner family stops along the route of their road trip. (Supplied by Jake Skinner)

To hear the original interview with Trustee Jake Skinner, click here: 

Thames Valley School Board Trustee Jake Skinner and his wife Vanessa tell London Morning about their extended family road trip in the US. 6:33

A North American road trip by a London, Ont., school board trustee and his large family is being called irresponsible and dangerous by public health officials and others. 

"Travelling during a pandemic is a terrible idea, whether it's to go to the United States or another country, it's just a bad idea," said London North Centre Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos. 

"During a pandemic, all of us have to be very careful to seek the advice of public health experts, who are obviously telling us now, with very good reason, that we need to limit our movements as much as possible. That is particularly true for public office holders, because we are entrusted not just to put in place policy in various areas, but also to set an example."

Thames Valley District School Board Trustee Jake Skinner left in September for the trip, taking with him his wife and seven of the couple's nine children. Along for the ride are the family's two dogs. 

Skinner said he saw everything shutting down during the pandemic as a unique opportunity to take the once-in-a-lifetime trip together. 

But many who read CBC's story about the family reacted to the pandemic road trip with surprise and anger. 

Skinner has attended all school board meetings virtually since being away, said school board chair Bill McKinnon. 

"Recent changes in legislation permit trustees to attend meetings virtually and Trustee Skinner has attended all meetings of the Board," McKinnon said in an emailed statement to CBC News. "It is the policy of the Board to follow all public health guidelines. We continue to be so proud of the work of our students and staff, both those learning and working in our schools and remotely." 

'Only travel for essential purposes'

The region's medical officer of health said travelling outside of the country increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

"From a public health perspective, it's really important that we only travel for essential purposes," said Dr. Chris Mackie. 

"We know that travel, particularly travel outside of the country, increases risk of spreading COVID. The public health advice at all levels of public health is that leaving the country should only be done for essential purposes." 

Under federal legislation, all nine family members will have to quarantine for 14 days when they come back into Canada, and federal quarantine officers would check up on them regularly to make sure they keep quarantine, Mackie said. 

The Skinners don't know yet when they'll be coming back to Canada. They left London in September and travelled west to Alberta, then south through Montana, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. They recently arrived in Nevada. 

"All public office holders have to be very, very careful, and illustrate through their example, exactly what public health officials are saying," Fragiskatos said. 

The Skinner family looks out over the landscape on their road trip. (Supplied by Jake Skinner)

"This thing is not a joke at all. We're seeing a second wave, we're experiencing it right now, and if people have any doubts, they should read the piece about the very, very sad passing of the man in Belmont." 

Vaccines are coming but people have to continue to stay disciplined, Fragiskatos said, noting he didn't want to address his points only to Skinner. 

"This virus is the most pressing challenge the country has faced since the Second World War, and it's frustrating when people are not listening to the advice of medical experts because that advice is sound. If we follow that advice, we can begin to flatten the curve again."

Skinner has responded to the backlash and CBC's coverage. Here is his response: 

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