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  • Tracy Sherlock

Judge dismisses parents' arguments that B.C. schools unsafe

A B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed two parents' argument that the school restart plan is unsafe. Photo: Wikimedia.

Two parents of Metro Vancouver school children tried to convince a judge that the province’s return-to-school plan was unsafe, but the judge dismissed their case.

Bernard Trest, father of a Surrey student in a gifted program, and Gary Shuster, father of two Vancouver students, both have underlying health conditions, justice Jasvinder Basran wrote in his decision. Shuster’s wife also has cancer and Trest’s son has viral-induced asthma.

Both argued they would prefer their children to attend school in person, but they don’t believe it’s safe to send them because masks are not mandatory and physical distancing isn’t possible.

They were seeking an injunction until schools implement mandatory mask and physical distancing policies.

The judge did not grant their request, saying the two fathers had not identified an authority that would justify such an injunction, or the authority the Minister of Health or the Minister of Education could use to make these orders. However, even if they had properly framed the argument, they failed to make the case that they would suffer harm, the judge wrote.

The judge also said mandatory mask policies can create other problems.

“Mandatory mask policies may result in other more effective means of limiting transmission, such as staying home when sick, proper hand hygiene, and physical distancing, being abandoned because wearing a mask can provide a false sense of security,” the judge wrote.

There is no evidence either of the fathers have pursued the at-home learning options available in Vancouver and Surrey, the judge wrote.

Also, schools are important for children’s well-being, the judge wrote.

“The evidence shows that prolonged school absences have detrimental effects on both children and families, with disproportionate impacts on families who may already be experiencing social and health inequities,” the judge wrote. “School closures disproportionately affect families who experience social and health inequities.

The judge noted adverse effects of school closures, including stress, mental health and loneliness that can be connected to anxiety, depression and declining mental health.

In the end, the judge believes the Provincial Health Officer relied on the best available scientific knowledge in creating the mask policy, which requires masks for older students in high-traffic areas, and the use of learning cohorts.

“I am not satisfied that the Restart Plan interferes with the suppression of COVID-19. On the contrary, it takes into consideration current scientific knowledge and implements polices that are designed to support the safe reopening of schools in British Columbia,” the judge wrote.

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