Fredericton mother, Jessica Bleasdale, filed a complaint on behalf of her son, 12, with the Human Rights Commission on March 16 over the province’s decision to lift mask and isolation mandates in schools. Premier Blaine Higgs, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell, and Education Minister Dominic Cardy are all named in the complaint.
Bleasdale has pointed to the New Brunswick inclusive education policy which contains a framework that requires schools to accommodate children as necessary in order to ensure their full participation in the classroom. She has kept her son, River, home from school since restrictions were lifted on March 14.
Bleasdale explains that River has a neurodevelopmental disability and, without the accommodation of certain COVID-19 restrictions, cannot fully participate in the classroom with his peers. She explained that because of the proximity in which River must work with his aides, the conditions put him at risk of complications and deficits on his learning journey.
“My son already doesn’t get the healthcare and education supports that he needs,” Bleasdale told CBC. “To place him in an environment where he could contract COVID because kids are attending school with COVID and not wearing masks, that puts my son at too high of a risk.”
She was told by the Commission it will take approximately three months before her file gets assigned and an additional eleven months before there is any sort of resolution. “That was quite disheartening because this is an urgent matter,” Bleasdale said. “My kid needs to be able to go to school now, not eleven months from now, in a safe environment that accommodates his disabilities.”
The next step in the process is for the Human Rights Commission to review the complaint to determine whether or not it falls in their jurisdiction. Bleasdale’s complaint must demonstrate, “prima facie discrimination.” If a human rights complaint passes the initial test, the respondent is then notified.
The Premier’s Office and Department of Health would not respond to a request by the CBC for comment and the Department of Education had not received notification of a complaint from the Human Rights Commission. Spokesperson Flavio Nienow wrote in an email to CBC stating, “as such, it would be inappropriate to comment.”
Nienow said the Department of Education understands that some families have concerns about the lifted restrictions, but cleaning and disinfecting protocols remain in place as well as reduced class sizes and that it is imperative that school-aged children must attend public school to prepare them for employment and continuing education.
Families who do not wish to send students to school must apply for an exemption to homeschool or to attend a private school.