The province has announced that starting today (November 24) several regulatory changes will be implemented with regard to how schools in Alberta deal with masking and in-person learning.

According to the province, the regulatory changes they are implementing will guarantee students and parents have access to in-person learning.

"These changes also clarify that children and students cannot be denied in-person education by their school authority due to their personal decision to wear or not wear a mask. School authorities must also continue to offer courses and preserve the integrity of educational programming, whether in person or at home," a press release stated. "By including these clear expectations in binding regulation, school authorities will be better able to manage their staff resources."

Premier Danielle Smith said that these changes have been made to enhance and protect educational choice.

"Parents and students have told me time and time again that they want a normal school environment for their kids. Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and, no matter what that decision is, it will be supported by Alberta’s education system.”

While the regulation applies to operational issues caused by high student absenteeism and teacher illness, the in-person learning change applies to grades 1-12 in all school settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools.

The masking change applies to early childhood services to Grade 12 in all settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools, as well as early childhood services operators.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said that the changes will secure a face-to-face classroom environment for students.

“I have heard from parents and students that they would like stability, and from school boards that they would like clarity. It will also help to maintain and improve student mental health while minimizing student learning loss.”

However, the provinces also underlined that the Public Health Act provides overarching direction on all public health matters and would continue to prevail over the Education Act and associated regulations in a future public health emergency.

Sarah Hoffman, NDP Critic for Education in response to the government's announcement said that Adriana LaGrange and Danielle Smith 'don’t have a clue about what’s happening in Alberta schools.'

“We know that respiratory illness outbreaks have been widespread this fall, causing intense stress and increased challenges for students, staff, and families. School districts are struggling to staff classrooms as illness moves through students and employees," Hoffman stated.  “It is totally unrealistic to expect that school districts can staff in-person and online classes simultaneously with no additional resources. They are struggling to staff schools already given UCP cuts in the last budget."

Several regulatory updates were required to ensure the changes were applied to all school authority types, including creating a new ministerial regulation under section 51(2) of the Education Act. 

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