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Two B.C. parents file legal challenge against school reopening plans

CHILLIWACK, B.C. — Two fathers have filed an injunction application demanding the British Columbia government implement tougher safety measures aimed at protecting students from the risks of COVID-19 before schools reopen.

CHILLIWACK, B.C. — Two fathers have filed an injunction application demanding the British Columbia government implement tougher safety measures aimed at protecting students from the risks of COVID-19 before schools reopen.

The application filed Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Bernard Trest of White Rock and Gary Shuster of Vancouver names the ministers of health and education as respondents.

It alleges they have interfered with the suppression of the virus by planning to open schools in a manner that ignores evidence that people with underlying health conditions may be at risk for severe illness.

None of the claims in the application have been tested in court and the ministries have yet to file a legal response.

The Ministry of Education said Thursday it had just received the parents' lawsuit and hadn't had the opportunity to review it yet, so it cannot comment on the specific concerns raised and it does not comment on matters before the courts.

"We continue to be guided by the health and safety advice of (provincial health officer) Dr. Bonnie Henry and her public health team," a ministry spokesman said in an email.

Earlier this month, Education Minister Rob Fleming said outdoor education will play a large role in the first two months of classes and emphasized the importance of students returning to school to continue their education.

"We can't sacrifice 18 months of education, we have to learn how to do things safely during this pandemic," he said.

Premier John Horgan said he understands parents and families are concerned, but added that schools are fundamental in a return to normalcy.

"We're working every day, diligently, to try and ease those concerns to make it as safe as we possibly can," Horgan said on Aug. 12.

Ottawa announced Wednesday that B.C. would receive an additional $242 million to help reopen schools safely, while the province released an updated plan including that some students would only be in school about 65 per cent of the time to minimize contact with others.

The court application says Trest has asthma and his 10-year-old son suffers from asthma that arises when he gets a respiratory infection.

It says Shuster, who has two school-age daughters, was born with a genetic disorder causing muscle damage that can be triggered by fever and viral infection.

It alleges the back-to-school plan endangers the lives of students, teachers and the broader community by wrongly presuming that learning groups of up to 60 or 120 students are safe so-called bubbles, in which physical distancing is not necessary.

The lawsuit claims the province is conducting a "science experiment in which students and teachers are the guinea pigs" by refusing to implement tougher preventative measures, such as physical distancing among students in the same learning group, stricter mask rules and reduced class sizes.

Kailin Che, a lawyer for the applicants, said the injunction application was filed in Chilliwack to avoid delay. It indicates Trest and Shuster will appear before a judge on Sept. 14.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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