Catholic families in Ontario can choose to send their children to the province’s public Catholic school system, but families who practice other religions have no such options, and often have to turn to private schools if they want their children exposed to a curriculum that includes religion. For some parents, the decision to choose a secular school or a private school with a religious focus can be difficult to make. In a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, two separated parents asked the court to help settle the issue.
Two school options
The parents were married in 2013 and separated sometime between December 2018 and April 2019. They had one child while they were married, and the child was getting ready to enter preschool/kindergarten this year, which is when the issue of which school he would attend came up.
The father requested an order that the child attend preschool/kindergarten at a non-denominational learning space referred to in the decision as “TNSK.” The mother requested that he attend preschool/kindergarten at a Jewish learning center, referred to in the decision as “AHS.” While both schools are private, TNSK had a much lower tuition rate than AHS.
The parents agreed that they wanted to raise the child within the Jewish faith. They also both agreed that he should learn about his religion. They disagreed, however, on the best way for that to happen.
Father wants child to attend a secular school
The father asked that the court order the child to attend TNSK, which he attended in preschool the year before. The father said the child is familiar with the teachers, the other students, and the building. He argued stability was important to the child, particularly due to the interruptions in his life that have resulted from the separation of the parents.
The father added that class sizes are smaller at TNSK, it’s closer to his home, and costs $8,530 per year as opposed to the $14,185 charged by AHS.
As for the child’s religious teachings, the father wanted those lessons to occur on weekend.
Mother wants child to attend a religious school
The mother told the court it has always been her belief that the child attend AHS. Both parents, as well as both sets of grandparents, are Jewish, and the child was to be raised within the Jewish faith. She said AHS is also close to home and has similar class sizes to TNSK.
In response to the father’s statement about the importance of stability, the mother said the child only attended TNSK part-time last year, and there was going to be some change in his day either way. She stressed that should he attend TNSK, he would have to obtain a Jewish education separately on weekends, which would limit family time.
In response to the costs, the mother acknowledges that AHS provided charitable receipts, which could be shared between the parents. Additionally, she stated that weekend religious education has a cost associated with it as well.
The best interests of the child
As in many family law situations, the matter boils down to what is in the best interests of the child. The court found that both facilities offered adequate educational opportunities for the child, and that neither required much travel. The court also found it was not likely that the child had any strong memories of TNSK, and that he is only three-years-old. He hasn’t attended school since March.
Ultimately, the court found that the combination of education and religious study offered at AHS was in the best interests of the child. Attending school there would allow the child to spend more time with his family on weekends; time which is precious for children with parents who are no longer together. The court was also satisfied that the charitable receipts and the added cost of religious weekend school bring the cost of the two options very close together.
For questions that only a family law lawyer can answer, contact Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors at 519.973.1500 or contact us online. Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors has been a fixture of the family law community of Windsor and Essex County for over 25 years, and so understandably, many prospective clients come to the firm through referrals from current or past clients, and also through referrals from lawyers, accountants, medical professionals and marriage counsellors.