Source: Rebecca Lees

Following intermittent periods of online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith won’t permit schools to move classes entirely online anymore. She’s also made good on her promise to ban masks in schools through regulatory changes. 

A news release from the government of Alberta says parents and families have been given “little to no notice” that students would be required to move to online learning throughout the pandemic. Many families did not have the resources to support at-home learning, and online classes impacted students’ well-being and academic achievement, the release says.

Smith says parents and students have told her they desire a regular school environment. 

“With that in mind, we have taken steps to protect and enhance educational choice,” Smith said in a statement Thursday. “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 regulatory changes ensure that students and parents have access to in-person learning and clarify that students cannot be denied in-person education over a decision not to wear a mask.

Kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes are excluded, as are schools in sensitive settings like hospitals.

Last month, Smith said she won’t permit further masking of children in grades K-12.

“The detrimental effects of masking on the mental health, development and education of children in classroom settings is well understood, and we must turn the page on what has been an extremely difficult time for children, along with their parents and teachers,” she said in a statement on Oct. 29.

The comments came after an Alberta judge ruled that a February order lifting masking requirements in schools was “unreasonable” because it was made by cabinet, not the chief medical officer of health.

Smith has directed Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro to examine whether to appeal. 

The latest regulatory changes, which took effect Thursday, come after Edmonton public school trustees voted to ask the province to reinstate mask mandates when a school is on outbreak status due to respiratory illnesses. Trustees said they would ask Alberta’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Mark Joffe for guidance about when to implement additional health measures.

Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said health officials and the provincial government are showing an absence of leadership amid high cases of Covid-19, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza.

“The board of trustees in this case and the division is being put in this position to make decisions that we quite frankly have no jurisdiction or no expertise,” she told CBC News.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said parents and students want stability, while school boards desire clarity.

“Securing a face-to-face classroom environment means students can continue to learn successfully while allowing their parents to go to work,” LaGrange said in a statement Thursday. “It will also help to maintain and improve student mental health while minimizing student learning loss.”

The government also hopes the changes will minimize potential learning loss. 

During the 2021-22 school year, a pilot program supported by a $45-million investment required school authorities to administer strategic learning assessments. Through literacy assessments, the province learned that about 70,000 at-risk students in grades 1-3 were 11 months behind grade level at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. That period followed 17 months of intermittent, at-home learning. 

After returning to consistent in-person learning, assessments from May to June 2022 showed that the average learning loss dropped to 3.7 months. 

The Alberta government provided $10 million in the current school year to continue the learning assessments. 


  • Rachel Emmanuel

    Rachel is a seasoned political reporter who’s covered government institutions from a variety of levels. A Carleton University journalism graduate, she was a multimedia reporter for three local Niagara newspapers. Her work has been published in the Toronto Star. Rachel was the inaugural recipient of the Political Matters internship, placing her at The Globe and Mail’s parliamentary bureau. She spent three years covering the federal government for iPolitics. Rachel is the Alberta correspondent for True North based in Edmonton.