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Quebec will not have to offer online learning to all students for now, court rules

The Quebec government is allowed to require in-class attendance after the province’s superior court denied a safeguard order to a group of parents demanding wider access to online learning during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Justice Frédéric Bachand issued his ruling Tuesday, saying the evidence presented by the plaintiffs did not justify emergency intervention until a full legal challenge can be heard. The safeguard order would have provided parents access to remote courses for their children immediately.

While the restriction is being upheld, the parents will be able to challenge the province’s revised coronavirus measures for schools in more exhaustive detail before the court during the fall.

The group, which consists of mothers from the Greater Montreal area, wants the government to offer remote learning options for families who don’t want their children to physically attend school to be able to keep them at home without a medical exemption.

Under the plan, only students with a medical exemption or who contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, during the school year are permitted access to online learning.

The parents who launched the legal action argue that securing a medical exemption is difficult and, at times, arbitrary. They also claim the province’s protective measures don’t go far enough.

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Sarah Gibson, one of the plaintiffs, said she was disappointed by the ruling.

“It’s a really tough day for especially the families who were refused the medical exemption,” she said.

“Their concerns are really serious and this news for them are very difficult. We need time to digest the very long decision and to determine what the next steps are.”

Julius Grey, a well-known human rights lawyer representing the parents, also said he was disappointed since it means that parents will either have to get a medical exemption or opt for homeschooling if they don’t want to send their children to school — but that the fight isn’t over yet.

“But I do know that the judge says that we do have a case, a strong case,” he said. “And that we have irreparable damage. And the case is not finished, there will be a hearing on the merits presumably shortly.”

The ruling comes as 118 confirmed cases in at least 70 schools were reported by the province’s education minister, who has defended his government’s plan. Jean-François Roberge has previously said it is important for students to return to class and socialize after months-long closures.

A spokesperson for Roberge said the minister will not immediately comment on the ruling.

With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and the Canadian Press

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