Toronto Jewish school sues province, city over lockdown

By: Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative, Reporter  National Observer
Online learning has been tough for students across Ontario, but it’s impossible if your family’s religious  convictions exclude the internet as a learning tool because it can also  be a conduit for immoral or destructive content.
That’s the  grounds for a legal challenge to provincial and municipal restrictions  on in-person learning filed on Thursday by Yeshiva Yesodei Hatorah  (YYH), a private school in north Toronto.
It says Ontario and  Toronto “failed to recognize the impossibility of providing adequate  remote education and religious services to its unique school population”  when restrictions were imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The  yeshiva, or Jewish religious school, receives no public education  funding and only accepts students whose families accept its “rigorous  adherence to religious principles and practices,” administrators said in  a statement about the legal action, which claims their religious and  equality rights have been violated.
“As  a consequence of this bedrock belief, YYH cannot deliver its religious  program through internet-based learning platforms such as Zoom or Google  Meet,” it said in a statement. “And the provincial regulation places  YYH students at a tremendous disadvantage in that the only form of  remote learning available to them — telephone — is a grossly inadequate  substitute.”
The filing seeks to have lockdown measures struck  down in an expedited court hearing after Toronto Public Health earlier  this month issued an amended public health order  to bolster the provincial lockdown rules and ensure they cover all  educational settings following complaints about religious schools  skirting the rules.
The school said prior to that move, it was  providing religious services to students in gatherings of 10 and was  fully compliant with the law.
Toronto Public Health earlier this year said  up to 50 elementary and junior high students were taking part in the  services of up to two hours duration in the morning and a shorter time  in early afternoons, and that some students were being fed while on site.
The school has 445 school-aged children and 225 children in  its daycare and kindergarten-aged program, it said, and its  non-unionized staff “have consistently expressed an overwhelming desire  throughout the pandemic to teach and provide religious services  in-person.”
The  provincial government on Thursday announced plans to reopen more of the  economy starting next month as third wave infections trend lower and  vaccination rates increase, but did not say whether it expects to reopen school classrooms before the summer break, which is scheduled for the end of June.