A group of parents, concerned about the threat of COVID-19 in Quebec schools, will try to convince a judge today to order the province to loosen its rules on who can take classes online.
The parents, represented by lawyer Julius Grey, are seeking an injunction that would allow them to keep their children home from school and learning remotely, even though they don’t qualify for a medical exemption.
If granted, the injunction would likely be in place until a court can rule on their associated lawsuit, which argues Quebec is violating the charter rights of parents by forcing them to send their children to school despite the risks of the pandemic.
“We’re seeing more and more interest in this legal challenge to open up the remote option for any family who wants it,” said Sarah Gibson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “A lot of people are really watching what happens here.”
In Quebec, unlike in Ontario this year, school attendance is mandatory. The province has established narrow criteria for who can qualify for an exemption to the rule and receive distance learning.
Parents also have the option of home schooling their children, which does not require an exemption.
“If [they] present a risk for health, of course we will help those kids to learn at home with the help of teachers and support staff,” Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said last month.
“But if the kids don’t have some sickness related to COVID-19, the best place is to go to school, of course.”
A spokesperson for the Lester B. Pearson School Board said it has received hundreds of requests from parents asking for a medical exemption and more are arriving every day. They have approved close to 400 requests for a medical exemption, the spokesperson said.
Parents in limbo
Some other parents, whose children also don’t qualify for the exemption, have opted to keep them at home anyway.
Sara Varano, a Montreal mom of three, said she’s been reporting her two sons, six and 11, absent from school since classes started.
“We’re throwing in 25, 30 kids together in a poorly ventilated classroom, where it’s going to be very difficult to maintain physical distancing, where they won’t be wearing masks and they’ll be spending five or six hours of their day closed up in that environment,” she said.
Alexis Richards and her 10-year-old daughter, Autumn, are in a similar situation.
“I want to go to school to see my friends, but I know that it’s a risk to my health,” said Autumn, who has Type 1 diabetes.
She does not qualify for distance learning, but her mom said she doesn’t want to take that gamble, and has asked the school board to make an exception.