B.C. fathers file lawsuit over school reopening plans, allege students being treated like 'guinea pigs'
VANCOUVER -- Two Metro Vancouver fathers have filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court asking for an injunction to push the province to make changes in classrooms that could impact hundreds of thousands of students when they return to school in September.
In their lawsuit, Bernard Trest of White Rock and Gary Shuster of Vancouver allege the province’s current back-to-school plan, unveiled in late July, fails to adequately protecting students and their families from COVID-19 transmission.
“The potential harm to students and teachers caused by (the B.C. Ministry of Education and B.C. Ministry of Health’s) reckless back to school plan is imminent and substantial,” the lawsuit reads.
In the lawsuit, the parents go on to accuse the B.C. government of “conducting a potentially deadly science experiment in which students and teachers are the guinea pigs.”
“It’s going to be an utter disaster,” Bernard Trest told CTV News. “All we’re asking for is some common sense measures that at least provide some sense of protection for all of us.”
In their lawsuit, Trest and Shuster essentially accuse provincial decision makers of ignoring the evidence surrounding COVID-19 transmission and children and of putting both students and their families at unnecessary risk.
The parents ask for schools to implement one or more of the following measures:
- Require physical distancing among students in classrooms and in the same learning group
- Reduce class sizes or density targets to enable physical distancing
- Require masks or face shields in indoor classroom settings, with appropriate exemptions
- Provide virtual learning options for students without forcing them to lose their spot in the school district for the ensuing year
They also allege that learning groups of 60 for elementary school students, and 120 for secondary school students, are too large.
Health and education officials have consistently said that school reopening requirements and guidelines will be driven by data and science.
They have also acknowledged that parents, teachers, and students should expect changes and refinements as the plan evolves.
Education Minister Rob Fleming didn’t directly comment on the lawsuit when asked about it Wednesday.
In a statement, the Ministry of Education told CTV News it hadn’t been served with the lawsuit yet and does not comment on matters that are before the courts.
A spokesperson added, “We continue to be guided by the health and safety advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry and her public health team.”
The Health Ministry, which is also named as a respondent in the suit, told CTV News it didn’t have anything further to add.
But both parents and teachers have voiced substantial concerns, including around masks, which will now be mandatory for older children in common areas and on buses, but not in classrooms.
For Shuster, who has two daughters attending different schools, the lawsuit indicates he and his wife would be effectively exposed to a sum of 180 students.
And the lawsuit argues that Trest, who suffers from asthma along with his 10-year-old son, Max, is being forced “to choose between preserving his child’s life or preserving his child’s education.”
“I’m extremely worried for my son and for all the other kids in BC,” Bernard Trest said. “We feel as if we’re not being heard.”
Dr. Brian Conway, an infectious disease specialist with no connection to the lawsuit, called the province’s school plan a “work in progress” but one that is based on a “rational, evidenced-based reopening of society.”
Conway, the medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said it’s unrealistic to think schools will be made 100 per cent safe, but compared schools to places like grocery stores and restaurants.
“If you are trusting your child to go outdoors and to follow the new rules that govern this COVID world, the school might actually be safer,” Conway said.
When asked if there were one specific part of the school plan provincial officials could refine, Conway pointed to masks.
“As we move forward and realize the situations where they’re necessary and not necessary, back off a little bit, rather than doing it the other way around,” Conway said.
The lawsuit was filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack the day same B.C.’s school districts were required by the province to make their reopening plans public.
No hearing date has been set.