Picking which school your child should go to is difficult enough on your own. However, imagine doing so during a contested divorce. Even more so, imagine picking the right school during a contested divorce with the COVID-19 pandemic looming overhead. One current and rising issue before the courts is whether your child should attend school online or in-person.
In a recent case, Moussaoui v. Harkouken, the Superior Court in Ontario found a balance between a child’s health risks and the benefits of in-person learning. In that case, the separated partners were seeking a temporary order placing their only child in different schools. There was a conflict between the parents as to which one of the schools the child should attend and whether online or in-person attendance was in the best interests of the child.
The mother argued that she was concerned about the child’s health given that he has had respiratory issues previously, putting him at a high risk of COVID-19 infection. She also told the court that the child had difficulty using the bathroom and that online schooling would allow the child to be further trained in that regard and help avoid embarrassing situations at school which could potentially “traumatize” the child.
The father was in favour of in-person learning because it would be more beneficial to the child to have the opportunity to interact with other children. The father was also concerned that the amount of online screen time may have a negative effect on the child’s development.
Ultimately, the court ruled that the child’s health risks outweighed the benefit of in-person learning during the pandemic. The court ruled that the child will be ready for in-person learning next year. In making its’s decision the court considered the following principles:
- If schools are open, children should attend unless there is evidence that if the child attended in person and contracted the virus, there would be an unacceptable risk of harm to either the child or anyone in either parent’s home.
- The court should consider various factors such as:
- The ability of the parent or parents with whom the child will be residing during school days to support online learning, including competing demands of the parent or parents’ work, or caregiving responsibilities, or other demands.
- The child’s wishes, if they can be reasonably ascertained; and
- Any proposed or planned measures to alleviate any of the risks noted above;
- The risk the child faces to their mental health, social development, academic development, or psychological well-being from learning online;
- Whether the child or a member of the child’s family, is at an increased risk from COVID-19 as a result of health conditions or other risk factors;
- The risk of exposure to COVID-19 that the child will face if she or he is in school, or not in school;
- To meet the burden of unacceptable risk of harm to the child or a member of the child’s immediate family, the courts have required current and detailed medical evidence.
- If the medical evidence falls short of sufficient evidence that an unacceptable risk of harm exists, the child will be sent to school.
Picking the right fit for your child’s learning can be a very tricky question in a family law dispute.
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