The Alberta government only restricts online learning in K-12 schools

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The Alberta government is imposing new restrictions on how the province’s schools can transition to online learning, also specifying that wearing a mask cannot be a condition of attending class.

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Changes announced on Thursday mean school authorities will only be able to shift classes from class 1 to class 12 online if they also retain an in-person option for parents who want to continue sending their children to school.

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The government also stated that students from early childhood programs up to grade 12 cannot be denied face-to-face instruction “because of their personal decision whether or not to wear a mask”.

Mask mandates have been lifted in Alberta schools since February.

The new regulations take effect immediately. Specific educational programs offered in a hospital or correctional facility, for example, are exempt from the face-to-face learning requirement.

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The move follows rising concerns about high levels of absenteeism among students, with the fall season of the respiratory virus hitting particularly hard this year. In the first winter season with no public health protections since 2020, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19 are all circulating.

Hospitals are also facing a wave of sick children. The medical director of Stollery Children’s Hospital confirmed last week that the children’s hospital is full, but that staff are willing to create spaces.

In a letter to parents earlier this month, Robert Martin, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, said that while face-to-face learning is the priority, “operational challenges may require shifting individual classes or grades to online learning.”

An Edmonton Catholic Schools spokesperson later said this would only be considered “after all other options to preserve face-to-face learning have been explored.”

Last week, the Edmonton Public Schools Board of Directors asked for specific thresholds to determine when to introduce mandatory isolation and masking in schools.

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The board noted that a recent King’s Bench of Alberta court decision found that the Alberta government acted “unreasonably” last winter by lifting a COVID-19 mask mandate for schools.

Prime Minister Danielle Smith has said she does not support the return of masks in classrooms. She said in a statement Thursday that parents and students want to be in a “normal school environment”.

“With that in mind, we have taken steps to protect and improve educational choice. Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and whatever that decision is, it will be supported by Alberta’s education system.”

NDP health critic Sarah Hoffman said in a statement that the announcement shows the Prime Minister and Education Minister “have no idea” what is happening in schools.

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“It’s totally unrealistic to expect school districts to be able to run in-person and online classes at the same time without additional resources,” she said. “They’re struggling to staff schools that have already had UCP cuts in the latest budget.”

The county’s public health law would override the new policy, so if the chief medical officer of health issued an order in the future to reinstate school mask mandates or demand a widespread return to online learning, those decisions would take effect. stay.

A government press release said the changes are about providing clarity and creating a “guarantee” of access to face-to-face learning and ensuring that “personal and family choices are respected”.

“Securing a face-to-face classroom environment means that students can continue to learn successfully while their parents can work. It will also help maintain and improve students’ mental health while minimizing student learning loss,” said Education Secretary Adriana LaGrange.

— With files from Lisa Johnson and Anna Junker

[email protected]

@meksmith

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