A group of Quebec parents are in court Thursday, fighting for access to an online learning option for all students in the province’s schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
They are seeking an injunction for families who don’t want their children to physically attend school to be able to keep them at home without a medical exemption.
“This week we withdrew and registered for home schooling because the uncertainty was just too great for us,” said Politimi Karounis, a mother of two.
The challenge, which includes a motion for a safeguard order, was filed by prominent human rights lawyer Julius Grey nearly two weeks ago in Quebec Superior Court. If granted, the order would provide parents access to online courses for their children immediately, before the case is argued on its merits at a later date.
Requiring children to attend classes in person violates their parents’ charter rights to make decisions that affect their health and safety, according to Grey. He told Justice Frédéric Bachand that in the context of the pandemic, the decision to send a child to class is an extremely personal and private one.
Quebec’s most recent back-to-school plan only offers an online learning option to children with a medical exemption — although some parents say they have had a hard time securing notes for their kids.
The services are only offered if a child or someone in the household has a medical condition that puts them at risk of health complications due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“We feel strongly that the medical exemption process is way too narrow,” said Sarah Gibson, one of the mothers involved in the legal challenge. She started an online petition calling for changes to the province’s plan.
“I know of many families whose children have cancer or someone is awaiting a transplant and they’re still having to go to school.”
Thousands of students are back in school in Quebec — some for the first time since March. There are health measures in place, but the parents at the heart of the legal challenge say they don’t go far enough to protect children.
Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday the province is facing a teacher shortage and it doesn’t have enough educators to offer online learning for all those who want that service.
“We cannot do both and our choice is really to have the children in classrooms, with rules,” he said.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has also staunchly defended his ministry’s plan, saying it’s important for children and teenagers to learn and socialize in school — except for those who cannot attend for medical reasons.
“The best place for the students is to be in school,” he told reporters.
Roberge also tried to reassure worried parents on Thursday, saying they will be notified if there is a COVID-19 case at their children’s school.
“If there is a case in a school, parents will be advised the same day — within hours,” Roberge said. He added that no news is good news.
This comes as several cases have appeared at schools across the province since the reopening less than two weeks ago.
The education minister however said he considers the reopening of schools across the province so far a success and is not worried about the number of COVID-19 cases that have popped up in schools.
— With files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley, Brittany Henriques and the Canadian PressView link »