Quebec parents argue in court for remote learning for all who want it

Some Quebec parents appeared in court Thursday to fight for the right to keep their children home from school and have the option of online learning.

The group of parents is arguing that the province makes it nearly impossible for parents to keep their children home, with a difficult-to-attain medical exemption required. The parent has to prove a child or someone living under the same roof is facing undue risks if contaminated with COVID-19.

"You have the same number of children per room as always, without masks and with no address in ventilation. This, to me, is not something we have done before in Quebec and I'm not comfortable with sending my children," said parent Sarah Gibson.

Parent Marisa Fernandez agreed. She told reporters she was unable to get one of her children a medical exemption, even though the girl has respiratory problems and Fernandez herself suffers from lupus.

"We should have the right, especially in this situation. We're in very uncertain times. There is a lot of uneasiness and I think we should all have the choice whether or not we want to send our children back," she said.

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey argued that parents' rights are being violated because they can't make their own choice.

In Quebec, it's illegal to prevent a child from attending school.

"Parents and in the case of older adolescents, perhaps, they have a say, it is not something for the government. That's our view," he said.

Grey told in court the decision to send one's child to class during the COVID-19 pandemic is private and personal, and asked the court for a safeguard order allowing parents access to online courses for their children immediately, and to keep the children home while the case is debated on its merit.

To obtain this temporary measure, Grey must convince the judge that the inconveniences of maintaining the status quo outweigh the consequences of changing the current policy.

Government lawyers argue the province is within its rights and that schools are equipped to provide a safe environment. 

Premier Francois Legault added that with a teacher shortage, the province can't afford to have two educational systems running in parallel. 

"We cannot at the same time have teachers teaching in the classrooms and the same teachers teaching the children for parents who stay at home," he said. "We cannot do both and our choice is to really have the children in classrooms with rules and that the teachers we have teach in the classroom." 

Grey told the court the consequences of Quebec's back-to-school plan could be irreversible if someone becomes sick or dies from COVID-19.

Granting a safeguard order would not be difficult, Grey said, because the government is already offering online courses for students with a medical exemption.

Justice Frederic Bachand is expected to make a decision shortly. 

- With files from The Canadian Press

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