The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone and parents of young children are no exception. Relationships between parents following a divorce or separation can be difficult to maintain in the best of times. However, COVID-19 has introduced parents to a whole new world of concerns, one of which is how safe it is to return to school. Unlike last year, schools are largely open across the country this year, though there are instances when they close due to COVID-19 exposures. In a recent decision issued by the Provincial Court of Alberta, the court heard from two parents who had opposing positions on how safe it is for their children to attend in-person school.
Mother does not want children to attend school
The parties involved include two parents and their children, who are currently in grades one and three. The mother does not work outside of the home, though she is considering starting an online business. Her relationship with the father ended in 2019. He works in the oil industry and is often out of town. While they were together, she stayed home with the kids while he worked. She has maintained primary parenting time with the children since their relationship ended.
The mother told the court that she unilaterally removed the children from school after one of the children developed a rash from wearing a mask. She also said the same child was experiencing anxiety after being bullied over not wearing a mask as directed by a health plan. She also obtained an exemption for the other child to not wear a mask.
She said that throughout the previous school year and the first part of the current year, she had trouble with the children learning at home, particularly in helping them with their computers and homework.
In May 2021 she told the father she wanted to enroll the children in a self-directed program that is essentially home-schooling with some group trips. She found tutors who would be available to help the children and offered to pay for the costs on her own, which are less than the after-school care she had already been paying. She said the father was not involved in the children’s schooling, stating he was not listed as an emergency contact, adding “he has excluded on his own” any decision-making with her
Father thought the plan was for children to return to school
The father told the court that he was under the impression the children would be returning for in-person learning this year and that the mother had not brought up her intentions to have them home-schooled. He said the children have friends at their current school and that they would enjoy the extracurricular activities offered. He also expressed concern about the quality of education they would receive outside of the traditional school system.
What is in the best interests of the children?
In issues such as this, the most important question the court will ask is what is in the best interests of the children.
The court found that while the father has tried to have an active role in the children’s education, he has been kept in the dark by not being made an emergency contact and by not being advised of the kids not being in school.
Despite what the mother said about problems with masks, the court said it heard no evidence indicating there were any negative or detrimental effects experienced by the children at their old school outside of a couple of isolated incidents. The court also stated that it is important for the children to have stability in their lives and that attending school in person provides that stability.
The court was also critical of the mother’s failure to discuss her plans for the children with the father, stating, “both parties must communicate with each other for the best interests of their children. Here, it is clear that (the mother) has no intention or desire to do so. Her own personal reasons are respected as to the dynamics that exist between herself and (the father), however, this has, in this case, impacted the two children. Of concern here is that the mother’s emergency contacts given to the school do not include the father’s information.”
Because of these reasons, the court determined that it would be in the children’s best interest to remain in the school they currently attend.
Call HMC Lawyers for your Family Law needs
The family law team at HMC Lawyers understands the emotional stress that parents experience during a divorce or separation. We work with our clients to provide them with responsive, individual representation that is suited to their unique needs while minimizing the stress they face. To speak to us about your family law concerns, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online and make an appointment. We represent clients primarily in Calgary and surrounding areas.