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Ensuring access to education for all students

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Alberta’s government is providing clarity to school authorities to ensure all students continue to have access to in-person learning and family choice.

Since March 2020, parents and families have at times been told with little to no notice that students would be required to move to at-home or online learning. Many families have not had the resources to support at-home learning. Further, at-home learning has affected the well-being and academic achievements of students. School authorities and parents have asked for stability and predictability when health measures are introduced.

Regulatory changes will guarantee students and parents have access to in-person learning. These changes also clarify that children and students cannot be denied in-person education by their school authority due to their personal decision to wear or not wear a mask. School authorities must also continue to offer courses and preserve the integrity of educational programming, whether in person or at home. This change creates an inclusive environment by ensuring personal and family choices are respected.

“Parents and students have told me time and time again that they want a normal school environment for their kids. With that in mind, we have taken steps to protect and enhance educational choice. Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and, no matter what that decision is, it will be supported by Alberta’s education system.”

Danielle Smith, Premier

“I have heard from parents and students that they would like stability, and from school boards that they would like clarity. Securing a face-to-face classroom environment means students can continue to learn successfully while allowing their parents to go to work. It will also help to maintain and improve student mental health while minimizing student learning loss.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education

By including these clear expectations in binding regulation, school authorities will be better able to manage their staff resources.

Minimizing learning loss

Maintaining parent and student educational choice will also minimize potential learning loss. Learning disruptions caused many students to fall behind in reading and math, ultimately affecting their ability to keep up with their grade level. This regulatory change will ensure that students will always have the opportunity to learn in person.

During the 2021-22 school year, a pilot program supported by a $45-million investment, the highest in Canada, required school authorities to administer strategic learning assessments. Through literacy assessments, government learned that about 70,000 at-risk students in grades 1-3 were, on average, 11 months behind grade level at the start of the 2021-2022 school year following a 17-month period of intermittent at-home learning. Assessment results from May to June 2022, after returning to consistent in-person learning and following small-group interventions, showed that the average learning loss dropped to 3.7 months.  

The Alberta government has provided $10 million in the current school year to allow school authorities to continue this work. This is one example of the positive impact in-person learning has had on students’ post-pandemic development.

“There is unassailable evidence that COVID-19 has impacted children's reading performance, particularly in early grades. The action taken by Alberta Education to mandate early screening and intervention is fully in line with research findings and best practice.”

George Georgiou, professor, department of educational psychology, faculty of education, University of Alberta

Supporting student mental health

The ever-changing learning environment during the pandemic, accompanied by mandates and restrictions, left many students feeling isolated and without support. The mental health of all students is a top priority for Alberta’s government, and this change will ensure that students who are struggling have a safe learning environment to attend every day.

“Given the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, Alberta appointed an expert advisory Child and Youth Well-Being Panel in 2021 to better understand the full scope of the psychological, social, educational and physical effects on children and youth. In this review, the essential role of schools in providing critical psychological and social-emotional supports and services for mental health and well-being of students were recognized. Schools and school staff play an essential role in the provision of mental health services.”

Jennifer Turner, director, Centre for Wellbeing in Education, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

Quick facts

  • The changes take effect Nov. 24.
  • The Public Health Act provides the overarching direction on all public health matters and would continue to prevail over the Education Act and associated regulations in a future public health emergency.
  • This regulation applies to operational issues caused by high student absenteeism and teacher illness.
  • The in-person learning change applies to grades 1-12 in all school settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools.
  • The masking change applies to early childhood services to Grade 12 in all settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools, as well as early childhood services operators.
  • Several regulatory updates were required to ensure the changes applied to all school authority types. To make the changes, Alberta Education:
    • created a new ministerial regulation under section 51(2) of the Education Act
    • amended the Private School Regulation
    • amended the Charter School Regulation
    • amended the Early Childhood Services Regulation
  • In a unique situation, a school authority may apply for an exemption to the regulation to offer in-person learning for a class(es)/grade(s) – for example, educational programming being provided in a facility like a hospital or correctional facility.

(view online government website)