Montreal mothers battle Quebec government in court over distance learning for children

Freja Hagberg in 4th grade does remote learning in Kingston, Ontario on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

A trial pitting a group of Montreal mothers against the Quebec government over distance education has begun in Quebec Superior Court.

The mothers, represented by human rights lawyer Julius Grey, want their children to be able to learn from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, only students with medical conditions or at-risk family members living in their homes are permitted to learn at a distance full-time.

“What we’re asking for is a distance learning option, whether that comes in the form of an online program or remote option, just sending us material and helping us supervise our children, sending us answer keys, that kind of stuff,” said Politimi Karounis, a mother of three from Pierrefonds and one of the lead plaintiffs.

Testifying by video from her home, Karounis told judge Chantal Chatelain she has COVID-19 concerns surrounding her immuno-compromised elderly mother, who helps care for the children two or three days per week.

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She fears her children could catch the virus at school, and in turn infect her mother. Because the children don’t have medical exemptions, and her mother doesn’t live at her address, her children are not eligible for distance learning.

If she were to keep them home from school, Youth Protection Services would intervene.

The plaintiffs believe that it should be their right to keep their children home just because they fear the virus.

Their arguments includes section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Karounis says her only option is to remove her children from their school completely, and is now home schooling them.

What we have to do currently is completely detach ourselves from the school system. And basically I liken it to being on a raft in a storm,” she said in an interview, adding that she would much prefer her children be allowed to follow along with their old classmates from home.

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Expert witnesses called by Grey and his colleague Vanessa Paliotti included Dr. Marty Teltscher, a medical microbiologist from the Jewish General Hospital,

“Children are significant transmitters of viral infections both among themselves and adults,” he told the judge.

Government lawyers Maryse Loranger and Stéphanie Garon defended the current government rules, saying outside the courtroom that healthy children must go to school, and the exemption requirement is valid.

They tried to poke holes in witness testimony, and the government’s witnesses will be heard later in the week.

The trial will proceed for at least eight days.

Click to play video: 'Distance learning in Quebec in pandemic times'
Distance learning in Quebec in pandemic times

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