The legal action pitting Montreal parents against the Quebec government over at-home education amid the COVID-19 pandemic came to an end on Monday.
The six plaintiffs represented by constitutional and human rights lawyer Julius Grey lost their case, asking for parents’ ability to decide whether to physically send their children to school or not and the right to opt for at-home learning.
The option to learn at a distance is currently only available to students with medical conditions or at-risk family members living at the same address — and after Monday’s decision, it’ll stay that way.
The plaintiffs argued they wanted access to learning materials, online teaching and test outlines like students would normally have if they were forced into virtual learning due to an outbreak in their classroom.
Government lawyers argued that healthy children must go to school, and the exemption requirement is valid. The court agreed with the government’s argument that doctors have discretion to write medical exemptions on a case by case basis. School boards cannot reject doctors’ notes.
Justice Chantal Chatelain said in her ruling Monday that the mothers have the option to homeschool their children under rules that have existed since before the pandemic.
The judge wrote that the mothers aren’t subject to any constraint from the state and that they have an option that respects both their concerns and their constitutional rights.
The applicants behind the lawsuit had said they didn’t want to impose their values on others but wanted to have the choice of whether to send their children to school during the health crisis.
Some of the mothers had said they wanted to keep their children home because they feared they would catch COVID-19 and spread it to family members.
They said that they are having to choose between their families’ health and the quality of their children’s education.
One example is the case of a mother with a medical exemption, but her sons are in a highly competitive program.
“If she removed from them this program in all likelihood they would not get back in, because the spots would be full. So these are the problems we’re having on the ground,” said one of six plaintiffs, Politimi Karounis.
“To look at things from the top down and say this looks like a good system — they can homeschool, they have a medical exemption — yes, ok, it looks good, but when you get into the details of how it’s working on the ground, it’s broken.”
In a Facebook post, the page Legal Challenge to Quebec’s Back-to-School Plan page wrote:
“Our position has always been that in the context of the pandemic, forcing in-person school attendance is a violation of our section 7 charter rights and that having to drop out and home school is not a viable solution for most. These two basic elements of our case were for the most part accepted by the Court at the injunction phase in September, so we are understandably surprised by how conclusive and adamant today’s ruling is in its assertion that there is no violation of our charter rights and that those who find attendance too risky can simply leave the system and homeschool.”
Karounis said the mothers are waiting for advice from their lawyers before deciding to appeal the decision or not.
— With files from the Canadian Press, Global’s Alessia Simona Maratta and Raquel Fletcher