School systems in Ontario have seen challenges over the last several years regarding funding allocations and other additional issues that come along when discussing a large-scale academic school system like most school boards in Ontario. These issues are even more prevalent when discussing the massive Peel and Toronto Public and Catholic School systems. These challenges are now exemplified when discussing the additional funding and protocol now required by school boards to be compliant with government, and Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce’s regulations. Minister Lecce announced on August 3, 2021, via Twitter, that students will be #backtoclass full time in the fall (via @sflecce, Minister Lecce’s Twitter hashtag used to announce in-person learning). This plan includes additional mental and physical health support as well as restoring physical education, sports, and other important activities that are essential to Ontario’s youth development.
Although Minister Lecce has a fantastic and exciting plan to bring Ontario Students back to school, questions regarding the pandemic and the fear of future Covid-19 outbreak waves have left parents with a significant amount of ambiguity regarding the idea of their children’s rights once they return to in-person learning at their respective schools in the fall. One of the most common and important questions that most parents are asking at this time is what rights do my children have in the school system?
Does my child have to go back to school? Does the school have to accept them?
If you are questioning if your child can be forced to stay home, the answer is yes. Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act R.S.O 1990, Chapter H7 authorizes a Medical Officer of Health to order any person to refrain from school to prevent any spread of disease. Although before it was not possible to expel a student in grade 3 or below, in August of last year, the Ontario government gave school officials (not only Principals) the right to remove any student indefinitely if they believe the student poses any risk to the safety of anyone in the school.
It’s important to note that even though the pandemic has often left parents in the dark, children in Ontario school systems still have rights that can still be enforced by parents and guardians. Unfortunately for parents, there is no law stated in Ontario that a student has to attend the school closest to their home. This is why the province has the right to convert students to at-home learning, especially when discussing special needs or safety concerns.
What about contracting COVID-19?
If your child contracts Covid-19 while at school, schools are usually not liable for damages. In addition to that, it will be difficult to prove that a child did contract Covid-19 from the school itself, and not at any other places. Also, there will have to be negligence on the school’s behalf. Meaning that the school must fail to have done something that it is required to do pursuant to the Ministry of Education and Ontario School Boards’ Covid-19 protocols. If the school fulfills all the mandated recommendations and a child still contracts Covid-19, it will be very difficult for the court to find the school liable.
If you still believe that your child is entitled to damages, then the child must have received some sort of permanent damage and prove that they received permanent damage from Covid-19 caused directly by the negligence of the school which breached Covid-19 protocol. This may be difficult to prove in the immediate future.
Staying home has its consequence too:
Questions now are arising due to growing concerns of mental illness and delayed social development of children who are not in schools for in-person learning. It is important to note that not sending a child to school for in-person learning is not a zero harm option. There are additional implications that can come into play when a child is kept at home without contact with any classmates and does not experience a classroom and social environment.
If you believe that your child’s rights are not being considered by their school board, or that you may be entitled to compensation for negligence by your child’s school, please contact Devry Smith Frank LLP Lawyer Katelyn Bell or call her at 416 446-5837 for assistance with this matter.