Schools and pre-kindergarten classes in Alberta cannot require students to wear masks to attend school, new government regulations say.
The rule, which goes into effect today, also prevents nearly all schools in Alberta from moving grades 1-12 to an online-only format.
Kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes are exempt, and schools in sensitive environments such as hospitals may be exempt from the rule.
“Parents and students have told me many times they want a normal school environment for their children,” Prime Minister Daniel Smith said in a news release Thursday afternoon.
Smith’s statement said the new rule would “strengthen educational choice” and require the education system to support that choice.
The government is concerned about the mental health impact of children missing in-person classes during the pandemic, the statement said. He also said that over the past three years, some children have struggled with online learning and face-to-face options should help children keep up with schoolwork.
According to the news release, schools and school boards had asked for clarity on public health measures that could be considered for adoption.
This change comes as children’s hospitals and schools grapple with waves of sick children and teens.
Pediatric emergency departments nationwide are being slammed with children who show up with respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, doctors say.
Public health doctors say influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 are causing a triple whammy of health problems for children.
If Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer decides to require additional public health measures in schools to control the disease outbreak, those orders will supersede the new school rules.
Last February, the Alberta government lifted mask requirements in schools. The families of five immunocompromised children and the Alberta Labor Union subsequently challenged the government’s decision in court.
In October, a Royal Court judge ruled that the government’s request to end mask mandates was “unreasonable”. Because the decision was made by the Cabinet, not the Chief Medical Officer for Health, who has that power under the Public Health Act.
The judge also found that Education Minister Adriana Lagrange had not taken the necessary legal steps to prevent mandatory masks in schools.
At the time, Smith said the government was considering legal means to address this.
Smith campaigned to become the leader of the United Conservative Party, promising that children would never again be required to wear masks in school.
The new rules apply to public, Catholic, Francophone, private and charter schools.