School districts in Alberta are not allowed to stop in-school learning despite high absenteeism | – Global News | Team Cansler

New regulations mean Alberta school departments will not be allowed to halt in-school learning despite high levels of absenteeism due to outbreaks of respiratory illness.

The province said students and parents will be “guaranteed” access to in-person learning starting Thursday, and students cannot be denied in-person learning by their school boards because they have chosen to wear a mask or not.

School districts must also continue to offer classes and “maintain the integrity of the educational program,” whether in-person or at home.

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These changes apply to grades 1-12 in all school settings, including public and independent schools. In a Thursday afternoon release, the change will create an inclusive environment and respect personal and family choices.

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This comes after Alberta’s new Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Mark Joffe, who had warned parents of a flu season that “could be harder than we’ve seen in years”.

Alberta Health Thursday reported 3,648 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza and 550 hospitalizations, including the second pediatric influenza death this season.

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“Parents and students have always told me that they want a normal school environment for their children. With that in mind, we have taken steps to protect and enhance education choice,” Premier Danielle Smith said in a statement.

“Families are free to make their own personal health care choices, and regardless of what that choice is, Alberta’s education system will support it.”

The government also said the new regulations will minimize potential learning losses. According to Thursday’s release, literacy assessments showed around 70,000 at-risk students in grades 1-3 at the start of the 2021-2022 school year were 11 months below class levels after 17 months of home learning.

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The government also said the average learning loss according to assessment results fell to 3.7 months from May to June 2022 as students returned to in-person study.

“I’ve heard from parents and students that they want stability, and from school boards that they want clarity,” Secretary of Education Adriana LaGrange said in a statement.

“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 student mental health while minimizing student learning loss.”

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Education critic Sarah Hoffman slammed the government’s move, saying LaGrange and Smith had “no idea” what was happening in Alberta’s schools.

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“We know respiratory illnesses have been rampant this fall, resulting in intense stress and increased challenges for students, staff and families. School districts are struggling to staff classrooms as the disease spreads through students and staff,” Hoffman said in an emailed statement.

“It is completely unrealistic to expect school districts to be able to offer both face-to-face and online classes simultaneously without additional resources. They are struggling to fill schools that were already granted UCP cuts in the last budget.”

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