In a recent Alberta decision, parents who could not agree as to where to send their children to school during the province’s COVID-19 fourth wave applied to the court for a ruling.
Parents Can’t Agree on School for Children
The parents began their relationship in 2012 and had two children. At the time of the court hearing on September 13, 2021, the children were 8 and 6, respectively. The eldest child was set to start third grade and the youngest child was to start first grade.
At the time, the 2021 school year had just started.
A parenting order had been issued in January 2021 ruling that the children would ordinarily reside with the mother and the father would have parenting time three days per week during the daytime.
However, they could not agree on where the children should go to school for the upcoming year and applied to court.
Mother Presents Her Arguments
The mother had stayed at home to take care of the children and was also looking to start an online business.
Both children had been attending a local school since 2019, but the mother had moved the children out of the school due to issues in the 2020 school year. She claimed that the eldest child had developed a rash on his face due to wearing a mask because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also stated that he had anxiety as he was being “bullied” by his peers over not wearing a mask after he received an exemption from the school. The youngest child had apparently also developed issues with his lungs when he was in kindergarten and had received an exemption from wearing a mask also.
Following the COVID lockdown in 2021, both children were at home and the mother had found it very difficult having them at home on the computers and helping with their homework.
In May 2021, the mother claimed that she had told the father she wanted to remove the children from the local school and home school them. She had also looked to move the children to another school that offered a flexible, no-rules, self-directed education that followed the Alberta curriculum. She had also considered bringing the children to private tutors four days a week and homeschooling them on the fifth day.
Father Presents His Arguments
The father worked out of town a lot in the oil-and-gas industry.
He stated that, in the past, he had a role in selecting where the children went to school. However, for the 2021 fall school session, he claimed that he only found out about the mother’s plans for the children from his lawyer.
The father wanted the children to continue at the local school because they had been there for a few years and they had friends in the school and community. Additionally, he submitted that the teachers were helpful and the school was a short distance from the mother’s home and about a 20-minute drive from his. The father felt that the boys needed structure and routine, which they were getting at the local school, and he was worried about their future academically. He questioned the mother’s plans for homeschooling and sent them to the alternative school.
Court Addresses COVID-19 Fourth Wave
As in all family law cases involving children, the court noted that its decision would be made solely in light of the best interests of the children.
Noting that the mother had the main responsibility of the children, the court then addressed the issues raised with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fourth wave, stating:
“COVID-19 has affected all parents with school-aged children in this province. There have been put into place new restrictions as of September 20th, 2021, and there has been a noticeable and alarming increase in COVID-19-infected individuals throughout the province and, indeed, throughout this country. From the information provided to all in the province, there is a strong likelihood that children may well be placed back into a lockdown situation with schools closed and online learning occurring.
The Calgary Board of Education has implemented strategies and protocols to ensure, as best as they can, the safety and health of their students. Should there be another school lockdown, [the mother] will be back homeschooling the children. Her evidence made it very clear that it was very difficult for her to keep the children focussed and involved in online schooling, and she found it to interfere with her aspirations. This situation could well repeat itself in the near future.”
Court Orders Children to Return to Local School
The court turned to the wishes expressed by the children, but noted that “[t]hey are simply too young to make decisions as to their school.” As such, the court ruled that their views would not be determinative and would only be one factor it would consider.
The court then stated that it had not heard evidence indicating that the local school had any negative or detrimental effects academically on the boys. It held that the bullying incident appeared to have been dealt with proactively by the school. It further stated that children should have as much stability and continuity in their lives as possible.
In the result, and considering the best interests of the children, the court ultimately ruled that it would be in their best interests to maintain the stability and continuity of having them remain in the same local school. Accordingly, the court so ordered.
Finally, in closing, the court commented:
“Children as young as [these children] are, as in so many cases, caught in the middle of parents who cannot put their disputes between themselves aside. This affects so many children in their emotional and psychological well-being. When this happens, the effects can be catastrophic for the child and this is simply not in the children’s or the child’s best interests.
Both parties here need to put aside their differences as adults and concentrate and communicate jointly for the best interests of [the children].”
Contact Feigenbaum Law for Experienced Advice on Family Law Matters
At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (416) 777-8433 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.