​Online vs In-Person Learning: Separating Parents Battle It Out in Court

  • October 14, 2020
  • Inesa Buchyn

Just as teachers and school boards are grappling with the new realities of COVID-19 in classrooms, parents have taken the issue of online versus in-person learning to courts. A series of recent court decisions has outlined a list of factors utilized in determining whether a child is to be enrolled in an in-person or online platform for the current academic year.

In the recent decision of Zinati v Spence, 2020 ONSC 5231, the parents disagreed as to whether their six-year-old child, N, should resume in-person schooling or if studies should proceed online. Just as all students, N commenced online learning in March of 2020 as the province went into lockdown. The father sought for the child to continue her studies online with the commencement of the 2020/2021 school year. The mother however took the position that the child should return to in-person learning. Since the parties had joint custody/decision-making authority and could not reach an agreement, the matter proceeded to court for determination.

The Honourable Justice JT Akbarali of the Superior Court of Justice concluded that the decision is to be guided by the best interests of the child, taking into account the child’s needs, circumstances, as well as the child’s views and preferences if same can be reasonably ascertained. Specifically, in deciding which education plan is in the best interests of a child,  the court will consider factors such as: