The Alberta government is imposing new restrictions on how schools across the province transition to online learning, and stipulates that wearing a mask should not be a condition of attending class.
The changes announced Thursday will allow school officials to move 1st through 12th grade classes online only if they maintain in-person options for parents who want to keep their children in school.
The government also said students in early childhood education programs through grade 12 cannot refuse in-person education “due to their personal decision to wear a mask or not”.
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Since February, mask requirements have not been enforced in Alberta schools.
The new regulations will come into effect immediately. For example, certain educational programs offered in hospitals and correctional facilities are exempt from the in-person learning requirement.
The move comes on the heels of growing concerns about high absenteeism among students, with the respiratory virus season hitting particularly hard this fall. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, and his COVID-19 are all prevalent in the first winter season without public health protection since 2020.
hospitals are also facing surge in sick childrenThe medical director of Stollery Children’s Hospital confirmed last week that the children’s hospital was full, but staff were ready to make room for the surge.
In a letter to parents earlier this month, Edmonton Catholic School Principal Robert Martin said that while face-to-face learning is a priority, “due to operational issues, individual classes or grades will be rescheduled as needed. We may need to move to online learning.”
A spokeswoman for Edmonton Catholic School later said this would be considered “only after all other options for maintaining face-to-face learning have been considered.”
Last week, the Edmonton Public Schools Board requested specific standards to guide when mandatory isolation and masks should be introduced in schools.
The Board, in a recent decision of the King’s Court of Alberta, Alberta government acted ‘wrongfully’ By lifting the mandatory COVID-19 mask requirement for schools last winter.
Prime Minister Daniel Smith said he does not support the reinstatement 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 enhance education choices. Families are free to make their own health decisions, and whatever those decisions are. , it is supported by Alberta’s education system.”
NDP opposition health commentator Sarah Hoffman said in a statement that the announcement showed the prime minister and education minister “have no clue” what was going on at school.
“It is totally unrealistic to expect school districts to be able to place in-person and online classes at the same time without additional resources,” she said. “They are having trouble staffing schools that have already been given her UCP cut in the last budget.”
State public health laws take precedence over new policies, so if the chief medical officer of health issues future orders requiring the restoration of mask mandates in schools and a broader return to online learning, those decisions will take effect. Enabled.
According to a government news release, the changes provide clarity, create a “guarantee” of access to in-person learning, and ensure that “individual and family choices are respected.”
“Ensuring a face-to-face classroom environment means that students can continue learning while allowing parents to go to work. It also helps to maintain and improve the mental health of students,” said Adriana Lagrange, Minister of Education.
— with Lisa Johnson and Anna Junker files