With the rise of COVID-19 cases across much of the country, it’s natural for there to be a concern amongst parents about whether or not their children are safe at school. Parents may find themselves in disagreements over how safe school is. But for those parents who are divorced or separated, it can be more difficult to arrive at an agreement, putting the courts in the position to determine whether it is safe for a child to attend school in-person. This was the case in a recent decision issued by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
A disagreement by parents over whether school is safe
The mother and the father of this child, who started first grade this year, exercise joint decision making. Like all children, the child’s last school year was interrupted by COVID-19. The child’s school resumed in-person learning in the fall. However, the father did not want the child to attend, while the mother supported in-person schooling.
The child’s stepmother is a front-line health care worker, and while she herself may be at an exposed risk of getting COVID-19, the court was satisfied that she is following the health guidelines established by her profession. The child herself has no health issues that place her at increased risk if she were to contract the virus.
Each of the child’s homes is also shared with a grandparent. But again, the court did not consider the grandparents to be at an increased risk other than risks associated with age.
How have cases dealing with the return to school been handled so far?
Not surprisingly, there have been a number of decisions related to the question of how safe it is for students to return to school. In Ontario, a decision from August looks at parents who could not agree on whether their child should attend school in-person or online. In this decision, the court referenced two cases from Quebec. In one of these decisions, a return to school was not ordered because a family member was at high risk due to an autoimmune disorder. In the other Quebec decision, the courts found that the government and provincial health authorities were in the best positions to determine if a return to school was safe.
The court quoted the Ontario decision, which stated
The Ontario government is in a better position than the courts to assess and address school attendance risks. The decision to re-open the schools was made with the benefit of medical expert advisers and in consultation with Ontario school boards. The teachers’ unions and others have provided their input as well as their concerns.
The court stated that while no child is entirely free of the risks associated with COVIOD-19 while attending school, the risks have not been found to be severe enough to warrant keeping children who are not at a higher risk from attending. The court found there to be no reason to require the child to attend school virtually or to delay her return.
If you are a separated or divorced parent and have questions about how to manage the parenting of your child or children, contact Howie Johnson Barristers & Solicitors at 519.973.1500 or contact us online. Our team has been a fixture of the family law community of Windsor and Essex County for over 25 years and have helped our clients through family law issues of all types.