A wealthy man who has become one of Canada’s most well-known anti-maskers is attempting to open up a network of private schools for the children of his followers to ride out the pandemic.
Chris Saccoccia, the son of a wealthy developer, is a childless man who founded a group called Mothers Against Social Distancing, whose Facebook page boasts 4,500 followers. Saccoccia, who goes by Chris Sky online, has been hyping “Private-On-Demand Education Inc." online for weeks to his thousands of, mostly middle-aged women, followers.
Saccoccia’s plan is to create “pandemic pods,” small groups of families that come together to create a private classroom or school where their children are homeschooled by a parent or privately hired teacher. He argues he will “save the children” from “masks and social distancing and indoctrination.”
“Our new initiative is to create an entire network of AFFORDABLE, quality education, private schools in Ontario, Canada as an alternative to the mandates and harmful guidelines now associated with pubic (sic) schools,” wrote Saccoccia on a GoFundMe for the project that has raised a little over $1,000.
Saccoccia and his followers believe that returning to a school with mandatory masks and social distancing measures will have long-term effects on a child’s mental health. “I am going to reshape the education system,” he wrote to VICE in an email. “Protect and save countless children from the government that is attempting to harm them psychologically and socially condition them for a life of fear and compliance.”
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s back-to-school plan has been heavily criticized, in particular, for not mandating smaller class sizes. Earlier this week, four major teachers’ unions filed a labour board complaint that Ford’s school reopening plan created an unsafe working environment for the teachers, violating the government’s own workplace safety laws. Many parents have said they won’t be returning their kids to school this fall as a result.
According to posts Saccoccia made on his Mothers Against Social Distancing Facebook page, tuition will be $250 for the year and then $200 per kid per month. In the “enrollment agreement” he shared, parents must accept that their kids may be taught by “volunteer teachers with no personal accreditations but with experience in education.” The minimum number of children in their “private schools” is five and the maximum is 50. As for the classroom spaces, well, pretty much any space will do as long as it is “climate-controlled” and can hold five kids.
Dozens of Saccoccia’s online followers have pledged they will sign their children up for the program, which is open for registration next week.
“What you're doing is paramount for many parents with school-age kids,” one of his followers commented on Facebook. "I thank you for making life for them better.”
‘Any space in a home or barn or garage’
Saccoccia didn’t respond to a detailed list of questions sent by VICE News about his projects. After the questions were sent, Saccoccia made several social media posts about an upcoming VICE News story about him in which he implied I was a pedophile and George Soros directly ordered me to write this piece, and shared my phone number to his followers. (Disclosure: Soros’ fund holds a minority interest in VICE Media Group.)
Saccoccia, a short and muscular man with bleached blond hair who is often photographed wearing low-cut tank tops that show off his pecs and tattoos, has made a name for himself in the past few months as one of Canada’s loudest anti-mask voices. He’s helped organize and spoken at several protests and hosts weekly anti-mask raves in Toronto. At one rave, two attendees got into a fight and then showed up with chainsaws, terrorizing the crowd.
Saccoccia is the son of Art Saccoccia, a successful developer in the Greater Toronto Area. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is the VP for his father’s company Skyhomes. VICE News reached out to Skyhomes for comment and clarification of Saccoccia's role but didn’t hear back.
However, in response to a negative Facebook review that mentioned Saccoccia, the company said he “is not responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, nor does he implement any procedural protocols,” and added that his “opinions, comments, and actions…are not condoned by the corporation.”
Saccoccia is crowdsourcing his locations, clients, and teachers from a private Facebook page he set up last month for Mothers Against Social Distancing. (Facebook removed his much larger public page, which had spread COVID-19 misinformation, in August.) On the page, he offered his followers “compensation” if they allow him to use their property for the school pods.
“If you have a space to offer you can save the children… while earning an income and being part of your very own Private School. With no work or experience required. Just a space in your basement, or workplace,” Saccoccia wrote.
“Save the children” is a popular slogan in the conspiracy world, recently hijacked by QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe that President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against the so-called deep state (i.e., liberal elites) and an international cabal of pedophiles.
“I live in midtown Toronto and have a detached double garage. I would need to clear out all the tools and do some renovating to make it cute… but it’s an option,” wrote one of Saccoccia's followers on the MAD page. Saccoccia responded, “any space in a home or barn or garage” works if it's “climate-controlled.”
In another post, an admin of the page said they were looking for teachers for locations in Vaughan, Caledonia, Etobicoke, Ottawa, Brampton, and London. Some of the people who offered to help claimed they currently work in Ontario's education sector.
VICE News reached out to several people who had either offered their property or services to the project but either didn’t hear back from any or were told they weren’t interested in talking.
‘Absolutely a possibility for him to get sued’
A Ministry of Education spokesperson told VICE News that despite Saccoccia telling his followers that Private-On-Demand Education Inc was an “officially registered private school,” the project is currently not “listed as a private school in Ontario.” Private-On-Demand Education Inc does not appear on a corporate name or business search in Ontario or federally.
This isn’t the first time Saccoccia has attempted to use his platform to crowdfund one of his ideas. He previously did the same with a “Back to Work” initiative that aimed to provide “legal funding aid” to small businesses. For this Saccoccia raised over $7,000 but, as one Twitter user pointed out, over half of the donations came from a user named Chris Saccoccia.
Jasmine Daya, a personal injury lawyer in Toronto, told VICE News that setting up pandemic pods is relatively easy to do but ensuring they won’t spread COVID-19 is much more difficult. She said there is a possibility of the coronavirus spreading from pandemic pods to the outside world and causing medical harm, which opens up the person who runs the program and the property owner to legal risks.
“In the scenario that you have presented, I was particularly concerned as 'pandemic pods' are used for young people and they rely on adults to help protect and guide them to make good choices,” Daya said.
In online posts, Saccoccia has said that John Schuman, a Toronto-based lawyer, created an “airtight” waiver for him and the people’s property he’ll be using. Schuman told VICE News he couldn’t comment on this particular case because of ethical reasons but pointed to a recent interview he did with CTV in which he said that private schools could be sued despite the waivers.
Daya said a COVID-19 waiver has yet to be tested in court and there is a possibility it’s ruled “unconscionable,” which would render it unenforceable.
“There is absolutely a possibility for him to get sued and moreover, for a successful lawsuit,” said Daya. “There is also a possibility for the Ontario government to impose fines and take other measures.”
Inside the private Facebook group, Saccoccia downplayed the possibility of a lawsuit when asked by his followers and promised everything will be OK.
Public schools in Ontario start re-opening next week.
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