Toronto Jewish school sues province of Ontario for withholding COVID funds

“These schools operate in the public interest and have a role to play in the public health interest as well.”

By David Hellerman

An Orthodox Jewish boys’ school in Toronto and two other independent schools filed a lawsuit against Ontario arguing for a share in funds earmarked for Covid-related safety measures.

Ontario distributed $763 million to help schools improve ventilation and sanitation, to purchase equipment and other measures. The money came from the federal government’s Safe Return to School Fund, which made allocations to the provinces based on the number of children between the ages of four and 18.

Unlike Canada’s other provinces and territories, Ontario funds the public and Catholic school systems, but not private or faith-based schools.

The Toronto Cheder and the Metropolitan Preparatory Academy, both of Toronto, and the Woodland Christian High School of nearby Kitchener say the province withheld funds from 1,500 private schools attended by 150,000 students “for no justifiable reason.”

The lawsuit asks that funds be distributed to private schools on the same pro-rata basis as the public schools.

“Ontario’s implementation of the Safe Return to Class Fund—specifically its decision to exclude independent schools—is unfair, unreasonable and unlawful, and constitutes a breach of the Applicants’ and other independent schools’ legitimate expectations and vested rights,” the suit stated.

“These schools operate in the public interest and have a role to play in the public health interest as well.”

The Canadian Jewish News reported that, according to an affidavit, the Toronto Cheder spent $44,951 on Covid-related expenses such as personal protective equipment, teleconferencing, additional sanitizing and “prizes and treats for students to improve mental health during the lockdowns.” The elementary school, kindergarten through Grade 8, has 350 students and a staff of 79.

Canadian media reports said provincial officials did not respond to requests for comments.

The Ontario Divisional Court is scheduled to hear the case on August 9.