A White Rock parent whose court challenge of the province’s back-to-school plan was dismissed last week says too much remains unknown about COVID-19 and its long-term complications to concede defeat on the issue.
“You can see what’s happening in the countries that haven’t studied the science and that’s the direction we’re heading in,” Bernard Trest told Peace Arch News Tuesday (Oct. 20).
“We just feel there are legal errors with respect to the decision and I intend to appeal it.”
Trest and Vancouver resident Gary Shuster filed an application in Chilliwack court in August in an effort to force B.C.’s health and education ministries to implement tougher COVID-19 safety measures in schools. Among other things, they called for smaller class sizes, mandatory masks and more physical distancing; measures they felt would better-protect students and teachers from the virus.
The science around COVID-19, Trest told Peace Arch News at the time, did not back the return-to-school plan, and was putting students at too great a risk.
In ruling against the application, however, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jasvinder Basran said he is satisfied that the advice of public health officials in the province is based on the best available scientific knowledge.
In an oral decision posted online Oct. 14, Basran said evidence shows the officials considered the use of masks in schools, while the creation of learning groups of up to 60 or 120 students was also based on “sound scientific advice” balanced with the need to provide children with an education.
Trest, whose son Max has asthma, disagrees that the advice is sound, pointing as example to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s recent appeal to parents to reduce the amount of sports activities their kids are involved in due to exposure concerns.
“These kids (playing sports) aren’t in close contact,” Trest said. “So, that transmits COVID, but according to (Henry), school situations where kids up to 120 are beside each other in classrooms is fine. It’s ridiculous.”
Trest also cited scientific studies that he said are being ignored, including one out of SFU that shows mask mandates “drastically reduce” the spread of COVID-19. Another study concluded it’s not possible to properly distance students if class sizes are bigger than 12 to 15 students, he said.
While Basran ruled the public interest is best served by continuing to rely on COVID-19 guidance issued by the province – finding the fact that some of that advice is not universally accepted “insufficient to conclude that the government has clearly chosen the wrong approach in terms of the public interest” – Trest said that the guidance is “flawed.”
“And now we have a second wave,” he said.
“That begs the question: is this second wave, has it been caused by children returning to school? Most likely, yes.”
Other findings Basran made included that the application from Trest and Shuster did not clearly identify any statutory authority that would permit the two ministries to make the orders the parents’ were seeking. The power to make orders under the Public Health Act is granted only to health officers, medical health officers and the provincial health officer, he said.
Basran added that Trest and Shuster expressed preferences for sending their children to school in person but felt it wasn’t safe. But he said they did not cite any evidence on remote options available to their children and the province has reasonably accommodated parents who have chosen homeschooling or remote learning options.
– with files from The Canadian Press