‘I never wanted to take on a fight’: No penalty for mother who sued a school division over facemasks, court decides

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba judge has decided there will be no penalty for a mother who tried suing a school division for more than $200,000 because it required a doctor’s note to prove a mask exemption.

In a written decision handed out on Wednesday, Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Gerald Chartier said there will be no financial penalty against the mother, but said her case raised a ‘serious issue’ when it comes to requiring masks in schools.

“I agree with the applicant that the issue of children wearing masks in the schools for long periods of time is a novel issue,” Chartier wrote.

GUIDELINES CHANGED WHILE TRIAL WAS ONGOING

In September Krista McKenzie, a practising lawyer in Ontario, took the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine (DSFM) to court after the school where her children attend required students to wear masks.

McKenzie had claimed an exemption to the mandatory mask rule for her children for reasons including mental, dental, medical and personal choice, but said she was required to provide a medical note.

Previous Manitoba guidelines required facemasks for students in Grades 4 to 12, as well as in any Grades 3/4 split classrooms where physical distancing cannot be maintained, adding doctor’s notes are not required for exemptions.

Those guidelines were updated by the province on Sept. 18, while the case was in trial, to say school divisions may request a doctor’s note for exemptions to facemasks.

“It is also true that government authorities changed the school mask policy in the middle of litigation, indeed on the date of the hearing of this matter,” Chartier wrote. “I draw the inference that it was done, at least in part, to address the very issue raised by this case.”

‘I NEVER WANTED TO TAKE ON A FIGHT’: MOTHER SPEAKS OUT

In a statement of claim, McKenzie said she was seeking more than $210,000 in damages, along with $1,000 for every day her children missed school, and a court injunction that would stop the division from requiring her children to wear masks.

In the decision, Chartier said he found no evidence of arbitrary conduct from the school division, and said no costs will be awarded to McKenzie.

“I never wanted to take on a fight – I just wanted my kids’ medical exemptions to be recognized and I was surprised at how the school board reacted, which is how we sort of ended up where we are,” McKenzie told CTV News.

She said in the time since the case went to trial the school division and her children’s school have been making some changes.

“The school has been working with me to see where they can minimize the wearing of masks, and they are also recognizing my children’s need for mask breaks, and to be able to help them vocalize when they need those breaks.”

CTV News has reached out to the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, but has not yet heard back.

ISSUES OF MASK EXEMPTIONS TO BECOME LARGER: MOTHER

McKenzie said subject of mask exemption is becoming a larger one with masks mandatory in many businesses across the province. She said businesses and schools should not be asking for a doctor’s note when someone is not wearing a mask.

In a statement to CTV News, a provincial spokesperson said people need to be compassionate and understanding towards people who meet mask exemption criteria.

“Requiring a doctor’s note during a pandemic puts an unnecessary strain on our health care system at a time when all the resources need to be available,” they said. “Public health will continue to assess the current public health guidelines and weigh the safety of Manitobans.”

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