Alberta government restricts online-only learning in K-12 schools – Edmonton Journal | Team Cansler

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The Alberta government imposes new restrictions on how K-12 schools can transition to online learning and states that masking cannot be a condition of attending class.

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Changes announced Thursday mean school boards can only move classes online if they also maintain 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 could not be denied face-to-face instruction “on the basis of their personal choice to wear or not to wear a mask”.

Alberta schools have not had mask requirements since February.

The new regulations come into effect immediately. Specific educational programs, such as those provided in a hospital or correctional facility, are exempt from the in-person learning requirement.

The move follows growing concerns about high student absenteeism, with this year’s autumn respiratory virus season being hit particularly hard. In the first winter season without public health safeguards since 2020, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19 are circulating.

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In a letter to parents earlier this month, Robert Martin, Chief Superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, said while in-person learning is a priority, “it may be necessary to convert individual classes or grades to online learning as needed due to operational challenges.”

A spokesman for Edmonton Catholic Schools later said it would only be considered “after all other options for maintaining in-person learning have been explored.”

Last week, the Edmonton Public Schools Board of Trustees called for specific thresholds to determine when schools should introduce mandatory isolation and masking.

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

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

“With this in mind, we have taken steps to protect and enhance education choice. Families can make their own personal health decisions, and regardless of what that decision is, Alberta’s education system will support it.”

The provincial public health law would override the guidelines. So if the Chief Medical Officer of Health issued a future order to restore school mask mandates or called for a broad return to online learning, those decisions would stand.

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

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

There’s more to come…

masmith@postmedia.com

@meksmith

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