Quebec judge backs school board’s clamp down on homeschooling dad
MONTREAL, October 19, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — A Quebec judge has found a homeschooling widower guilty of neglect in educating his 11-year-old daughter and ordered him to collaborate fully with the school board that alerted the province’s Youth Protection Services about him in the fall of 2015.
After receiving notification from Commission scolaire des Patriotes, a school board based in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, Youth Protection Services charged the father under the Youth Protection Act, according to his lawyer, Robert Reynolds.
The Act prohibits publication of any details of the case that would identify the minor in question, Reynolds told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.
Reynolds has filed an appeal of the Youth Division Court judge’s September 16 ruling. But pending that appeal, “whatever the school board says,” the father will “have to do,” Reynolds said, noting that it could be a year before the Quebec Superior Court hears the case. St-Bruno-de-Montarville is a suburb east of Montreal.
“There’s a judgment that orders him to do certain things, and he doesn’t want to be found in contempt of court, so he has to obey the judgment or take it to appeal,” Reynolds said.
The single dad began homeschooling because he and his wife decided to do so before she died in a car accident, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. The father is also a member of the HSLDA.
Quebec’s Education Act requires that all children attend school until age 16 and allows homeschooling only with a school board’s authorization, Reynolds told LifeSiteNews.
“It’s not automatically legal,” he said. “You can do homeschooling as long as the school board having jurisdiction determines that the homeschooling the child is receiving is ‘equivalent’ to what the child would receive at school.”
The school board evaluates this every year the child is homeschooled. “If a parent doesn’t go through the right steps to get permission from the school board” the board “will notify the Director of Youth Protection” the child is not going to school.
“Some school boards are pretty lenient. Others are not, and this particular school board is very strict, and they think they know best,” Reynolds said.
The father began homeschooling his daughter in 2014 and the Commission scolaire des Patriotes assessed that year and the next that she was not receiving a proper education, he told LifeSiteNews.
In October 2015, the Youth Protection Services charged the father with “neglect under the Youth Protection Act, neglecting the child’s education,” Reynolds said, noting the department has discretion to lay charges or not.
“What this court usually does is to get involved in cases where the child is really being abused, physically, sexually or abandoned,” Reynolds said. “But they also have jurisdiction over those cases where the child’s not going to school.”
After a four-day trial, heard intermittently in May, June and July, the judge ruled September 16 that the child could remain with her father and be educated at home but that the parent must agree to “collaborate entirely with the school board.”
Reynolds has appealed on the grounds that the judge did not weigh the evidence but took the school board’s word the child was not receiving an “equivalent” education.
The judge “didn’t exercise his authority properly because under the Youth Protection Act it’s not good enough simply to say this has happened,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“He has to go the next step and actually look at the facts, and determine whether or not the child is in danger, and that’s what he didn’t do. He simply left it up to the school board and said, ‘You don’t think that the child’s schooling is … equivalent, OK, that’s good enough for me.’”
Reynolds had two orthopédagogues, or remedial educational experts, testify that the child was “within the acceptable range for her age where she would be at school,” he said.
Manon Fortin of Quebec’s chapter of the HSLDA also testified and “explained to the judge that there’s a tremendous variety in the way school boards in Quebec handle the requirements.”
Reynolds, a general practitioner with 40 years’ experience who has been retained by HSLDA over the years and is a member of the Christian Legal Fellowship, has an initial appearance for the appeal on November 9 but cannot predict when the court will hear the case.
Under law, youth protection cases are “supposed to be heard as quickly as is humanly possible,” Reynolds said. “But we’re still bound by the backlog that may be there.”
Meanwhile, “I don’t know how this one’s going to play out” between the father and the school board, he said. “Normally, if he had been a good boy and done what they had wanted him to do, they would have tested the child twice a year, around January and around June, and see how she’s doing.”
The HSLDA is working to promote “a suitable agreement between the school board and this single father,” HSLDA noted on its blog.
Moreover, after Fortin met with Minister of Education Sébastien Proulx on September 13, the Liberal government has asked HSLDA for “recommendations aimed at improving Quebec’s policies regarding homeschooling,” he wrote.
While the September 16 ruling sets a troubling precedent, the Supreme Court of Canada has “already stated that the term ‘equivalent’ must not be confused with ‘identical’,” HSLDA noted. “Despite this disappointing judgment of the court, we can still be very optimistic toward the future.”
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