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

North Coast home-grown ice talent Carly Edwards from Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert takes centre ice on TV competition show Battle of the Blades Wednesday nights at 8 p.m., with her partner NHL partner Chris Versteeg. (Photo supplied)
Local figure skater spotlights on TV show’s center ice

Prince Rupert’s Carly Edwards is featured on TV competition show Battle of the Blades

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
PHOTOS: Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

B.C. Ferries is still providing ferry service between Tsawwassen and Victoria, 60 years later. (File - Black Press Media)
Ferry sailings cancelled for Oct. 29th and 30th

BC Ferries announces technical difficulties on Northern Expedition

Technical difficulties with the recording and broadcast of the Oct. 26 Prince Rupert City Council meeting mean residents were unable to watch on TV or online happenings in the meeting. (The Northern View file photo)
Technical difficulties leave public unable to access City Council meeting

Summary brief of Prince Rupert City Council meeting

Requests for proposals for the first stage of a water treatment facility project have been issued by the City of Prince Rupert on Oct. 26. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Water treatment facility project in Prince Rupert enters first phase

Prince Rupert seeks proposals for assessment of water quality supply and treatment options

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Most Read