Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students to return to the classroom in September. Trest is one of two fathers who filed a court application this week to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections aren’t in place. (Contributed photo)

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students to return to the classroom in September. Trest is one of two fathers who filed a court application this week to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections aren’t in place. (Contributed photo)

B.C. dads file suit against province over back-to-school COVID plan

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster say it’s ‘unconscionable’ to reopen schools without more risk mitigation

A White Rock dad who spoke out last month about concerns with the province’s back-to-school plan is now one of two fathers taking the government to court over the matter.

READ MORE: Not enough science to back return-to-school plan, says White Rock dad

Bernard Trest said Wednesday (Aug. 26) that the B.C. Supreme Court claim was filed on behalf of himself and Gary Shuster in Chilliwack that morning – and that the legal action shouldn’t come as a surprise to the leaders of B.C.’s health and education ministries.

“They must’ve known this was going to happen,” Trest told Peace Arch News.

“There’s no way you can introduce a plan this ridiculous and this dangerous and not know that someone is going to file a lawsuit against you and try to stop it.”

Ministry of Education officials on July 29 announced B.C.’s plan for a return to school in September, noting much of the plan will be up to individual school districts.

Under provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s guidelines, schools are to open with cohorts of up to 120 at the secondary level and 60 for elementary students. Face masks will be required for students and staff in middle and high school while in high-traffic areas, such as on buses and in hallways, but will be optional for elementary students.

In Surrey, the model put forward includes cohorts Supt. Jordan Tinney has described as “much smaller.”

READ MORE: Surrey high school cohorts to be ‘much smaller,’ Tinney says

According to Trest and Shuster’s notice of application, reopening without stronger risk-mitigation measures – including smaller class sizes, mandatory masking and physical distancing within groups – to protect students and teachers against COVID-19 is “unconscionable,” and they want the court to block the step from proceeding until such measures are in place.

“School boards don’t know how to handle this plan,” Trest said. “There’s really no plan in place.”

Trest – who started a Facebook page with his 10-year-old son Max last month to rally others with similar concerns – told PAN at that time that the science around COVID-19 does not back the return-to-school plan, and puts students at too great a risk.

Wednesday, he said that data released in the past month has only strengthened that position.

“Since we’ve spoken… there’s much more evidence, there’s much more science, and the government, they’re refusing to acknowledge it,” Trest said.

“There’s not a single one individual that’s said this plan is a good idea. Even (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau… he’s questioning whether he’s going to send his kids to school.”

Six people, including Trest and Shuster, have filed affidavits in support of the court application.

Attorney Kailin Che of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae cited Trest’s “widely shared” concerns for his son and the community in explaining why her firm took on the case.

“Everyone in BC has an interest in seeing the province safe and healthy,” Che told PAN by email.

“We cannot reopen the economy and schools with insufficient measures in place. We cannot do nothing, and expect things to be okay. The old adage better safe than sorry rings more true during these exceptional times more than ever. It costs very little for the government to take the recommended precautions to keep schools safe.”

She noted that Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae is also representing a B.C. doctor in a case filed a few weeks prior “dealing with similar concerns but on a broader level (not exclusive to schools).”

Wednesday morning, Trudeau announced a $2 billion ‘Safe Return to Class’ fund, “to help keep students and teachers safe as schools reopen.”

READ MORE: Feds roll out $2 billion to fund return-to-school safety amid pandemic

He described it as flexible funding that can be used for anything from hand sanitizer to remote-learning options, but exactly how it may be applied in individual districts – or how much, if any, each district might receive – is unclear.

“What (the provinces) choose to do is up to them… but we know there is more to do,” Trudeau said.

B.C. is to receive $242.36 million.

Health ministry officials were not immediately able to respond to a request for comment; Education Minister Rob Fleming, during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, said he was “not aware” of the lawsuit.

A further statement from the education ministry notes the province has not yet been served with the lawsuit, “so cannot comment on the specific concerns it raises, and does not comment on matters that are before the courts.”

“We continue to be guided by the health and safety advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry and her public health team,” the statement adds.

– with files from Katya Slepian



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronavirusCourtEducationSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
104 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

IH is reporting the new numbers since Friday, Nov. 20

(Black Press file)
Interior Health reports 31 new COVID-19 cases

In the region, health authority reports 235 total active cases

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 28 new COVID-19 cases overnight

There are now a total of 1,172 cases in the region

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

BC Teachers' Federation President Teri Mooring is asking parents of school-aged children to encourage the wearing of masks when possible in schools. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
LETTER: Teachers union encourages culture of mask wearing in B.C. schools

BCTF President Teri Mooring asks parents to talk with children about wearing masks in school

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Pamela Wright, a UNBC professor in the department of ecosystem science and management, is presented with the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership - Professor, at a virtual ceremony today (Nov. 24) in recognition of her collaborative work with community partners and students to conserve Canada’s northern lands. (Photo submitted by Mitacs)
UNBC professor receives prestigious conservation award

Pamela Wright recognized for leadership in ‘breakthrough’ work on northern issues

(Pixabay)
All dance studios, other indoor group fitness facilities must close amid updated COVID-19 rules

Prior announcement had said everything except spin, HIIT and hot yoga could remain open

Most Read