A disappointing decision from the Youth Division of the Court of Quebec
By Jean jr. Landry.
On September 16th, the tribunal gave judgement regarding one of our members who was defending his right to offer, at home, an education tailored to his children’s needs. We have introduced you to this story in previous communications: this member, a single father, had undertaken this noble mission some years ago, following the loss of his spouse in a car accident. Before this tragic event, both parents had agreed that homeschooling was the best option for the education of their daughter, who was a preschooler at this time. After the accident, the father was determined to stay faithful to the wish that this couple had formulated. And years later, this father’s approach was producing excellent results.
Nevertheless, the school board got involved in this father’s life, insisting that he had to comply with the government’s educational program and had to be evaluated accordingly. Now, this father simply could not agree with such demands. If he had consented to make sacrifices on his salary and bring major changes to his single dad’s life, it was not so that he could reproduce what was already done in schools. Therefore, this very dispute brought both parties before the judge. The question was whether or not the parent would be permitted to provide an education that is equivalent to what is provided at school, in accordance with the law, without having to do as the school authorities demand and provide an identical education.
As in many similar court cases, the notion of equivalence is therefore the name of the game. In this particular case, while the judge didn’t question the right of this father to homeschool his child, he refused at the same time to make any statement about the way we should interpret the expression “equivalent schooling” of the article 15(3) of the Education Act. Even though the Supreme Court already stated that the term “equivalent” must not be confused with “identical”, the judge didn’t take into account this jurisprudence, since it was not related to the same sphere of jurisdiction as his. Therefore, he deferred to the school boards’ good judgment in order to determine if the teaching provided in this family was equivalent to what we find in schools. And naturally, since the school board was refusing to adapt its evaluation and was relentlessly referring to the Ministère’s program, the conclusion has been made that there was a “negligence on the educational level”.
First of all, it would be appropriate to point out that this judgment is not disastrous, considering the fact that it still recognized the father’s right to homeschool. However, it sets a precedent that requires all of our attention. By passing the buck to the school board’s camp, the tribunal left the board with the power to interpret the concept of equivalence to its own advantage. This decision from the Youth Division thus reminds us that nothing can be taken for granted and that the fight for the protection of our rights and freedoms is a long and ongoing battle. Suffering setbacks is part of any battle and it is important in these moments to keep the faith, stay firm in our intentions and stand together.
Secondly, we must keep in mind that the main obstacle to homeschooling in Quebec is not the law itself but the policies that are adopted by school authorities. For parents, this fact is in itself a huge advantage. Indeed, it is difficult to change a law. But a policy can evolve as time goes by, in the same way that mentalities change. That is why HSLDA is actively working at educating the various school board’s workers and thereby contributing to an atmosphere of collaboration. This work of education is also the duty of each homeschooling parent. By talking openly about homeschool to our neighbour, we familiarize people with this educational path and contribute to a change in perceptions. Also, we must not forget that homeschooling parents can unite together when they face the rigidity of school authorities. The recent example of what is occurring in the territory of Western Quebec School Board proves it. After they collectively submitted their grievances to the school commissary, homeschoolers obtained a loosening of their requirements, thus demonstrating that this kind of policy is not cast in stone and that a parent’s tenacity can make a difference.
As for now, while we still have to establish the best legal strategy to use following this judgment, we work at promoting a suitable agreement between the school board and this single father. Also, HSLDA will soon submit to the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports some recommendations aiming at improving Quebec’s policies regarding homeschooling. These recommendations, asked for by the government after the meeting between the Minister of Education and HSLDA’s Manon Fortin on September 13th, have the potential to create a wind of change and to lead Quebec in the right direction. Despite this disappointing judgment of the court, we can still be very optimistic toward the future.
HSLDA continues to work for the protection of the rights of homeschooling in Quebec and will keep you up to date about any further development in this matter.