As Mothers’ day 2021 approached, schools closed in Alberta and Ontario and parts of Manitoba. At the time of writing, Alberta’s schools had reopened, but schools in Ontario and parts of Manitoba remained closed.
B.C. schools closed briefly in March, 2020, in the initial wake of fears surrounding covid-19.
This was followed by a period in which they partially re-opened, as non-educational daycares for certain families, including children of essential workers.
Parents were then given a choice on whether to send their children back to school or keep them at home. In my own children’s classes, parents almost unanimously “chose” to have their children return.
This sensible approach allowed school attendance to reflect individual circumstances.
But this school year, many schools across Canada have slammed their doors shut for various periods of time. Often on very short notice.
Take Alberta for example.
Ironically, the edict to suddenly shut school doors was effective the Friday before Mothers’ Day.
School boards had requested the closure. But one of the reasons given by the premier was to prevent the “health-care system” from being “overwhelmed.”
It’s no secret that Alberta education has suffered massive cuts in recent years.
It’s widely known that the various quarantining “requirements” are crippling the educational system.
If a teacher has a student who had covid, the teacher is “required” to quarantine for two weeks. Whether those requirements were validly enacted and are legally defensible is beyond this scope of this article.
There aren’t enough substitute teachers to fill in for quarantining teachers.
How much of this could be addressed by injecting much-needed funding into the education system?
Schools were closed without considering individual circumstances. Rather, assistance is being considered for some with high needs, to “transition” to “online learning.”
But what about those who couldn’t do so, for whatever reason?
As B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer stated in August, 2020, for many children, attending school is “integral for their mental well-being and education.”
Children of course come from various different backgrounds. They, and their families, face different challenges.
Many of these may be private. The child, or the family, may not wish to draw private struggles to the school’s attention.Nor should they have to.
Attending school allows some children to escape abuse within the home.
Some children’s parents have safety concerns with their children’s names being used within “educational technology” tools.
Some children have no internet. Or no computer. Or no one to assist them.
Others may be homeless.
Not to mention the impact of school closures on women.
A recent study by RBC revealed that amid covid-19 restrictions, almost 100,000 women aged 20-plus have exited the labour market entirely, compared with fewer than 10,000 men. Childcare (read: school closures) plays a big role in this.
The study revealed that between February and October, 2020, more than 20,000 women left the workforce. About triple that number of men joined it.
Industries dominated by women, such as hospitality and health care, are not amenable to working from home.
While that is undoubtedly true, I have it on good authority that women in many other industries also experience challenges.
Even the most dogged determination to focus on preparing complex documents is no match for several little voices calling “moooommmmmm” every few minutes.
As of May 11, 2021, the Alberta government’s website showed 200 of Alberta’s 816 schools had 10 cases or more. The actual number of cases in the “10+” category is not disclosed. If 200 schools each had 20 students with covid-19, that would be 4000 students.
“10+” was selected as threshold at which to declare an “outbreak.”
So, school doors were shut to 750,000 K-12 students in that province.
Across-the-board school closures, without considering individual circumstances, is unprecedented.
Do such school closures impose a burden that draws discriminatory distinctions based on characteristics protected by human rights legislation or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Do they have a disproportionate adverse impact on the very young, the disabled, or working women?
Are such broad school closures a disproportionate response to the threat of death posed by covid-19?
Do governments have other less drastic means available to them? Means which result in less impairment to individuals’ rights or freedoms?
One way or another, this issue may find its way before a court. Months or years after the fact, that is.
That doesn’t do much to help those who are struggling and, for one reason or another, unable to cope with school closures now.
This is a modified version of an article appearing in online publications including the Kelowna Capital News. This article is for educational purposes only, and provides very general thoughts and general information, not legal advice. By viewing it, you agree that there is no lawyer-client relationship between you and the website publisher. Nothing here can be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a practicing lawyer in your province with experience in dealing with the specific circumstances of your situation. We may be reached through our website at inspirelaw.ca.