Alberta government bans school mask mandates, online-only learning

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No Alberta school or kindergarten class can require students to wear masks to go to school, a new provincial government regulation says.

The rules, which take effect today, also prevent almost all schools in Alberta from switching grades 1 to 12 to an entirely online format.

Kindergarten and kindergarten classes are excluded, and schools in sensitive settings such as hospitals may be exempt from the rules.

“Parents and students have told me time and time again that they want a normal school environment for their children,” Premier Danielle Smith said in an afternoon press release Thursday.

Smith’s statement said new rules “enhance educational choice” and require the education system to support that choice.

The statement says the government is concerned about the mental health consequences of children missing in-person classes during the pandemic. It also says some kids struggled with online learning over the past three years and that an in-person option should help kids keep up with their academics.

The news release said schools and school boards were seeking clarity on what public health measures they might consider adopting.

The change comes as children’s hospitals and schools struggle with a surge of sick children and teenagers.

Doctors say pediatric emergency rooms across the country are being hit by children showing up with respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

Public health doctors have said that influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 lead to a triple whammy of health challenges for children.

If Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health decides to require additional school public health measures to control disease outbreaks, those orders will take precedence over the new school regulations.

Last February, the Alberta government lifted mask mandates in schools. The families of five immunocompromised children and the Alberta Federation of Labor then challenged this government decision in court.

In October, a judge at the Court of King’s Bench found the government’s call to end mask mandates was “unreasonable” because the decision was made by the Cabinet and not the chief medical officer for health, who has that power under the Public Health Act.

The judge also found that Education Secretary Adriana LaGrange had not taken the legal steps required to prevent school mask mandates.

At the time, Smith said the government was looking at legal options to address this.

Smith campaigned for the leadership of the United Conservative Party on the promise that masks would never be imposed on children in school again.

The new rules apply to public, Catholic, francophone, private and charter schools.

More on the way.

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