Ontario Superior Court upholds child’s best interests in deciding which school he should attend

The parents could not agree on which school their child should attend

Ontario Superior Court upholds child’s best interests in deciding which school he should attend

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has confirmed if the parents cannot agree on which school their child should attend, and the court is called upon to make the decision, the child's best interests continue to govern.

In Roberts v. Symons, 2023 ONSC 4757, William Roberts, the father of a three-year-old child, wanted his son to attend the public school serving the area where he resides, Kettle Creek Public School. On the other hand, the mother, Elizabeth Symon, wanted the child to attend a private, faith-based school, King's Academy. Symon spoke of her experience with the public school system as "not good" and indicated that, as a bottom line, Kettle Creek does not fulfill her wishes that her child has a faith-based education. Furthermore, she argued that the location of King's Academy, a lack of fencing, and the need for the children to attend a public park all pose risks to children attending school.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice noted that the issue underlying the parties' dispute on where the child should attend school was "the quality of education at a public school versus that at a private school." The court said that if the parents cannot agree on which school their child should attend, and the court is called upon to make the decision, the child's best interests govern.

The court listed several general principles taken from the case law "to assist the decision-maker" when making a decision of this nature in the child's best interests. They include considering the child's needs, interests, cultural heritage, and stability.

The court noted that both parents focused attention on the benefits that they perceived that the child would receive from attending their preferred school. However, they did not assert some "right" that should trump the other party's chosen school.

The court found that each parent focused on the main benefit to the child of attending their preferred school by connecting it to the lifestyle they would want for him. The father focused on the prospect of the child making friends at Kettle Creek with other children from the agricultural community. The mother focused on the child making friends with other children more likely to have been exposed to a faith-based lifestyle.

The court noted that it must also consider which school would best promote and maintain the child's cultural heritage. If the father's assertion about the agricultural roots of many of the students at Kettle Creek proves to be accurate, the court considered that the child would be more likely to develop a connection with other children who share with him a background and interest in farm life of an agricultural heritage.

After carefully analyzing the evidence and comparing the schools, the court found that Kettle Creek is potentially more stable and better resourced. However, the court also said that King's Academy seemed better positioned to focus on the child and attend to matters beyond academics.

The court then turned to the issue of the cost of attending King's Academy and found that the mother cannot contribute to her share of divided full tuition for the child until she pays down the larger debt load, which means that year-to-year, there will be uncertainty attached to whether the child will be able to return to King's Academy based on whether there will be a tuition cost for him in the following year, and if so, how much it will be.

The court cited case law where the primary consideration by the court was whether the private school was necessary or whether the child had any particular needs that could only be met at a private school. The court said that absent a compelling reason for the child to attend a private school, a public school was the default location for the child to receive an education.

The court ultimately considered that, based on the evidence, nothing establishes that King's Academy will meet any of the child's needs that cannot be met in public school, apart from the mother's desire for him to receive a faith-based education. If the child does not attend King's Academy, the mother, by her admission, will still provide him with moral and spiritual guidance, and he will be attending what the mother described as a "very nice public school."

Accordingly, the court concluded that it is in the child's best interests that he be registered to attend Kettle Creek.

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