MONTREAL — A group of parents are moving forward with a legal challenge aimed at forcing Quebec to offer remote learning services to families who don’t want their children returning to classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic this fall, the lawyer representing them said Monday.
Julius Grey said the motion he’ll file in Quebec Superior Court in the coming days will argue that requiring children to attend classes in person violates their parents’ charter rights to make decisions that affect their health and safety.
“There are certain decisions that cannot be made by the government for people,” Grey said in a phone interview.
“Of course the government can make basic curriculum decisions — for instance, people who wanted to protect their children from the study of science were always rebuffed — but they cannot make these fundamental decisions about life, death, security.”
The province’s back-to-school plan offers online learning services only if a child or someone in their household has a medical condition that puts them at risk of health complications due to COVID-19.
But children without a medical exemption will have to attend classes or be homeschooled, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge repeated Monday.
“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,” he told a news conference in Quebec City. “But if the kids don’t have some sickness related to COVID-19, the best place is to go to school, of course.”
On Monday, Roberge announced $20 million in funding aimed at temporarily hiring about 350 teachers and specialists who can help children who have fallen behind due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Politimi Karounis, a mother of two, is one of the parents involved in the lawsuit. She said Monday she believes the health measures in the government’s plan are inadequate.
Sending her children to school “would mean my child is in a class for five or six hours a day, with 35 students, without a mask, without social distancing, when at home I can guarantee several basic security measures,” she said in a phone interview.
“I believe parents, in this particular context, must have the choice to take decisions for the security of their families.”
Grey said parents have many reasons for wanting to keep their children out of crowded classrooms, ranging from elderly grandparents or sick siblings at home, to simple anxiety.
He said many parents don’t have the capacity to homeschool, and don’t want to pull their children from their normal classes without a guarantee they’ll be able to return next year.
Grey said the government is “clearly capable” of providing distance learning, since it is doing so for children who have health exemptions.
“They are providing Zoom education for those children who qualify under the narrow exemptions they have,” he said. “There’s no reason they wouldn’t provide it for all those parents who, for better or worse, for good reason or bad reason, say they are not comfortable sending their child to school.”
He says he’ll seek an emergency hearing on the matter in the hopes of getting a decision in the next few weeks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2020.
— With files from Stephanie Marin
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press