EDMONTON — The Alberta government says school boards can't require students to wear masks in school or be forced to take classes online.
In a release, the government says it has made regulatory changes that guarantee students have access to in-person learning.
The changes also say that students cannot be denied in-person education by school authorities due to their personal decision to wear or not wear a mask.
Last week, the Edmonton public school board asked Alberta Health and Alberta Education whether it can require masks as schools deal with a wave of viral illnesses that is sending thousands of students home sick and straining hospitals.
Premier Danielle Smith says the changes go into effect immediately and will create an inclusive environment by ensuring personal and family choices are respected.
Smith has been critical of mask rules in schools, saying they have adversely affected the mental health, development and education of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Parents and students have told me time and time again that they want a normal school environment for their kids," Smith said in a release Thursday. “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."
The government said 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 those same grades and schools, but also to early childhood services.
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said the changes show the government doesn't have a clue about what’s happening in Alberta schools.
“We know that respiratory illness outbreaks have been widespread this fall, causing intense stress and increased challenges for students, staff, and families," Hoffman said in a release.
"School districts are struggling to staff classrooms as illness moves through students and employees."
Hoffman said it is unrealistic to expect that school districts can staff in-person and online classes simultaneously with no additional resources.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022
The Canadian Press