Veteran Art Boon's travel predicament ends after school board gives son time off
Teacher 'will not be directed to attend work next week,' board says
A 90-year-old veteran's travel predicament was relieved in the 11th hour Friday, after an Ontario school board compromised to allow his son, a history teacher, to accompany him to a Second World War ceremony in the Netherlands.
The Avon Maitland District School Board in Stratford, Ont., previously denied Rick Boon's request for unpaid leave to accompany his father, Art Boon, to an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland next week.
Sticking to your guns when they are pointed the wrong way is not leadership.—Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O'Toole
On Friday, just hours before Art Boon's scheduled departure, the school board released a statement saying that it is maintaining its position to refuse a leave of absence, but the teacher "will not be directed to attend work next week."
"If Mr. Boon chooses to go to The Netherlands, we will sort out the legalities following his return," Ted Doherty, director of education, said in the statement.
Doherty added that Boon will not face any disciplinary action from the board.
The school board, which administers public schools in Huron and Perth Counties, including the city of Stratford, said earlier this week that it considered a number of factors, including how many leaves the teacher had previously taken and what effect his absence would have on students.
School board granted previous leaves
The board previously told CBC News that it had granted Rick Boon unpaid leaves to take similar trips on more than one occasion, and had informed the teacher that he would not be granted leave for a similar reason again.
By granting a leave, Doherty said, he and the school board may be setting a precedent that would apply to other employees in the province who wish to accompany their family members on "recreational and other medically non-essential trips."
Despite the tensions from the controversy, Doherty said the school board is proud to be associated with the veteran.
"We remember and celebrate his achievements," the statement read. "We are very pleased that he will travel to Europe to receive the recognition he so justly deserves."
Earlier on Friday, Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O'Toole weighed in on the issue, saying he was "profoundly disappointed" with the school board's "apparent unwillingness" to consider the veteran's need.
"What is most perplexing about this story is the fact that Mr. Boon's son is a history teacher whom the school board empowers to teach our young people about Canadian history," O'Toole said.
Petition draws thousands of signatures
After speaking to Art Boon, O'Toole said the veteran feels much more comfortable travelling with his son, who knows his health routine and habits, and his son had accompanied him to previous commemorations.
"He knows this could be his last trip to the country that he and thousands of other young Canadians liberated 70 years ago," O'Toole said.
O'Toole said he called the school board this week to ensure that the veteran could attend the commemoration in a way that he was most comfortable with. He also urged the board to consider formulating a policy in the future to accommodate similar events.
"I truly hope that the Avon Maitland District School Board recognizes that public concern is based out of genuine concern for a 90-year old veteran who deserves to be heard," O'Toole said. "Sticking to your guns when they are pointed the wrong way is not leadership."
An online petition denouncing the school board's decision obtained more than 31,000 signatures as of Friday.
Boon was among the first troops to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and to liberate France and Holland from the Nazis, the petition said.
The veteran and his son were scheduled to travel from Stratford to Toronto Friday afternoon and leave on a flight from Toronto Pearson International Airport in the evening.
Once in the Netherlands, the veteran is expected to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and O'Toole, who will also attend the commemorative events.
Statement from Avon Maitland District School Board's Ted Doherty (PDF KB)
Statement from Avon Maitland District School Board's Ted Doherty (Text KB)CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content
With files from The Canadian Press