Parents group looks to take Ford government to court over classroom COVID measures

Click to play video: 'Parent group raises money to take Ontario government to court over school safety'
Parent group raises money to take Ontario government to court over school safety
WATCH ABOVE: A grassroots organization is raising money to take the Ontario government to court over what they believe are deficient pandemic protections in Ontario schools. Colin D’Mello reports – Oct 11, 2022

A group of Ontario parents is raising money to challenge the Ford government in court in an attempt to bring back COVID-19 protections amid high case counts across the province.

The grassroots organization, which calls itself Ontario School Safety, launched a fundraiser in early September looking to raise $75,000 to fund a legal challenge against the Ontario government.

“Most parents in our group have already tried going to various levels of government, administrators, MPPs sending in petitions, signing letters,” said Heather Hanwell, a spokesperson for the group.

“We’ve exhausted all of our options to have evidence-based and data-driven protections (in schools.)”

According to the latest COVID-19 data from Public Health Ontario the province recorded between 7,000 to 8,000 cases of the virus every week since the beginning of September with a seven-day average of 1,197 cases as of Oct 1.

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Wastewater data, which has been used as a virus-tracking method in the absence of widespread testing, has shown an increase in the prevalence of COVID-19 province-wide.

Parents with Ontario School Safety say despite the increased prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, the level of protection hasn’t increased.

Previous pandemic measures from physical distancing, cohorting and mandatory masking were lifted over the course of 2022 after Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and Premier Doug Ford said residents need to “learn to live” with COVID-19.

“Protections that are lacking in schools right now include things like testing, reporting, case notices and any type of mitigation in terms of transmission of COVID,” Hanwell told Global News.

A legal action, Hanwell said, is a measure of last resort.

“It seems a bit ridiculous perhaps to be taking the government to court, but this is where we’re at and it doesn’t look like there’s any other level of recourse,” Hanwell said.

In an interview with Global News, Education Minister Stephen Lecce underscored the $600 million in provincial funding to purchase more than 100,000 HEPA filter units and said the government continues to give students access to rapid antigen tests to monitor symptoms.

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“We have a strong protocol in place following the best advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and I will continue to follow that advice so we can keep kids in school where they belong,” Lecce told Global News.

The Ministry of Education also “recommended” that staff, students and visitors use the province’s self-screening tool on a daily basis and anyone filling ill “should stay home … to prevent the spread of illness.”

Those guidelines, however, aren’t mandatory and some parents are fighting to have school policies reviewed and new protections implemented.

“That would look like evidence-based, data-driven protections that are implemented on scientific and ethically driven principles rather than on political decisions,” Hanwell said.

The group has so far raised $22,000 out of the $75,000 goal and is still reviewing its legal options before launching its court challenge.

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