School Enrollment and COVID-19 

Within the current climate of COVID-19 many parents are severely concerned about the overall future and safety of their children, and specifically sending children to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps there has been no more greater source of concern for many parents then decisions related to the return of children to classes for the September 2020 school year. Many parents are struggling to grapple with this issue, which has come to the forefront of family law courts within recent weeks, as parents in either joint custodial arrangements or arrangements with no custody order in place remain indecisive as to what decision is best for their children going forward or have some very serious, heated and litigated disputes over these issues. Recently the courts have become embroiled in a series of cases all related to the single topic of how parents are to resolve the question of whether a child should attend classes online or in person, and on what basis such decisions are to be made between conflicted parents. As always our firm is here to help provide you with answers.

How courts have determined the “correct” choice regarding enrollment

As recently as August 25, 2020, a ruling was made in Chase v. Chase, 2020 ONSC 5083, where Justice Himel importantly indicated that the Ontario Government itself was in a far better position to determine the overall risks and benefits of children attending school than the courts. In particular, the decision to resume in person attendance was made through consultation with medical experts, and considerations have been made directly by government in terms of balancing risk with the benefits of in person schooling, which has led to the current re-opening of classes. In the circumstances of this case, both parents agreed that it is in the best interests of the child for them to attend school during normal circumstances outside of a pandemic, which is the prevailing opinion of most parents in Ontario. Based on the evidence provided, Justice Himel determined that there was no unacceptable risk of harm to the child or the parties if the child was to attend classes in person, based on a lack of any medical concerns or conditions which would make the child or the parents or their families at increased risk to COVID-19. As a result, an order was made that the child would be registered and shall attend classes in person during the September 2020 school year when classes commence. It is important to note that while this case relates to the specifics of the family in question, it can by and large be taken to signify the prevailing hands off approach that the courts are taking in relation to the issue of school enrollment. In particular, substantial weight is being placed on the medical evidence and risk balancing conducted by the Ontario government in their decision to open schools in the first place, and the expectation seems to be that in general circumstances, the benefits of children attending school will outweigh the risks in situations where there is no clear medical basis for vulnerability involving either the child, or any individuals they would be coming into contact with.

At the present time, our firm is working with both existing and potential new clients to ensure that litigants are able to safeguard the ability of their children to attend school either in person or online, in accordance with their best interests and in accordance with the law in Ontario. Our firm is here to assist you in regards to all of your needs, and can assist you in any negotiations you may need to resolve within your custody and family law disputes. Please call one of our Child Custody Lawyers in Toronto for a consultation related to your matters.

Written by Adam Jaffer, Associate Lawyer at Separy Law P.C