This case involved the determination of which school a child should attend. The parents shared parenting time of their 11-year-old daughter equally and were both heavily involved in her life.
The Applicant mother was bilingual, speaking French and English and the Respondent father was unilingual, speaking only English.
The child was bilingual and had attended an all-French school from pre-school to grade six. Since the school she had previously been attending ended at the sixth grade, the mother enrolled her at the school’s sister school, an all-French school for grades seven through twelve.
The father argued that the child should attend a public school for grades 7 and 8, followed by a public high school, both offered a French-immersion program for the child to attend.
The father brought a motion to decide this issue, which was somewhat urgent with the school year beginning within the next few weeks.
Prior to analyzing the case, Justice Chown made note that choice of school cases are very fact-driven and are decided on a child-by-child basis.
The court proceeded to discuss the factors that it would consider, the first being the benefits of an all-French school. Justice Chown emphasized that all-French schools offer children many benefits including mastery of the French language, promotion of the child’s cultural identity and the future employment benefits of bilingualism. The all-French school would provide a significant benefit for the child, but this was not necessarily a controlling factor.
The next factor was the attributes provided by each school. There was inadequate evidence for the Judge to conclude that one school may be a better educational experience than the other. In reference to transportation, the Justice Chown concluded that both schools were manageable.
The Judge looked to the prior agreement of the parents on choice of school. This was not given much, if any, weight in this case as the only prior agreement presented was subject to the privilege of settlement discussions. If admissible, the Judge explained this still would give little weight to his decision as the agreement was likely not made in the best interest of the child but for the purposes of settlement.
The next factor was the child’s attachment to her friends. As the child had attended the same school all her life, she had friends at the all-French school who would be moving on to attend the sister school for grade seven. The mother argued that the child would not know anyone at the French-Immersion school and the father did not dispute this. Based on providing the child with a continuation of stability, Justice Chown heavily weighed this factor in favour of the all-French school.
Being only eleven years old, the child’s preferences to continue at the all-French school were lightly taken into consideration.
A large concern for the father was his inability to participate in the child’s education. At the all-French school, he was unable to communicate with the child’s teachers and all school correspondence was in French. He was also unable to participate as a volunteer due to his unilingual status. The mother presented evidence that the all-French school would communicate with the father with English correspondence and that if the child needed assistance with schoolwork, she could translate the work. This analysis was to be weighed in the best interests of the child, not the father and the issues that he presented can be mitigated but the Judge did see this is a real concern.
Finally, the Judge looked to the status quo of the child’s upbringing. The child had been attending the all-French school from pre-school to grade six. He explained that there must be a very important reason to change a child’s school arrangements and contradict the principle of stability. Though she was required to change schools, the status quo ran with the all-French school.
The Judge concluded that it was in the child’s best interests to attend the all-French school. The most significant factors were the benefits of all-French instruction and keeping with the status quo. A lesser but still important factor was child’s attachments and friends. Though the father had a real concern with his inability to participate in his child’s schooling, the other factors outweighed this.
*This case is a great example of why choosing a child’s school is an important parenting issue. As discussed, the status quo of where the child is presently situated is weighted heavily in these cases. When choosing your child’s school, it is important to foresee the potential for conflict in the future, always ensure both parents opinions are represented in such decisions.
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