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Thursday, 05 May 2011 09:42

Alberta gov’t releases new Education Act

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By Rose Sanchez

Officials with the Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) will have gained a better understanding  of Alberta’s new proposed Education Act after meeting with deputy education ministers Wednesday.


The new legislation was released April 27, aiming to “enhance student access to education and empower local school boards to be more responsive to the learning needs of students and their communities.”

If passed, the Education Act will replace the current School Act. It guides the governance of education in the province. The last time major changes were made to the School Act was in 1988.

The new Act is not expected to be passed until later this year, after holding discussions with stakeholders and an online engagement forum (www.education. alberta.ca/engage).

Pat Cocks, secretary-treasurer for PRSD, attended a meeting in Airdrie Wednesday, to learn more about the new Act, along with Superintendent Doug Nicholls and board trustees Stuart Angle and Paulette Heller.

Cocks liked the fact the government is taking its time before passing the Act.

“There’s no real rush to get it through the Legislature,” she said. “There’s a lot of time for consultation and feedback, and we like that.”

With just a glance through the news release from government about the Act, and prior to the May 4 meeting, Cocks said it looks like a lot of what is in the current School Act has been included in the new Education Act.

She does like the fact there is a more clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of school boards.

The proposed changes also give school boards the ability to close schools without the Minister’s approval, but notice of the closure must be given to government.

Cocks says the ability for school boards to make decisions about school closures may provide more flexibility on the timing of when such decisions are made.

“There is still a requirement for a process to be followed,” said Cocks. She didn’t know if certain rules would still apply, such as the one which states a school can only be closed in the school year before it is actually closed.

“A little bit more long-term planning may provide more flexibility,” said Cocks.

As for no longer legislating the 2.4 kilometre walk distance, Cocks was unsure what would change, unless funding was altered as well. Currently, the Province pays to bus students who live more than 2.4 kilometres from a school. She was hoping to find out more specifics about this at the meeting.

According to the government new release of April 27, highlights of the new Education Act include:

• Increases the age of access to 21, allowing students more time to graduate.

• Raises the age of compulsory attendance to 17 from 16 years to encourage more students to complete their high school education.

• Articulates responsibilities for students, parents, school boards and trustees.

• Requires school boards to ensure a caring, respectful and safe environment that addresses bullying and discrimination in school, outside of school and online.

• Describes the provision of specialized supports and services, recognizing the needs of all students will be met within a single inclusive education system.

• Enables more flexible learning opportunities and supports for students by providing school boards with natural person powers. These powers provide boards, as legal entities created under the proposed Act, the authority to do any legal thing a natural person may do. Board activities must be consistent with the responsibilities of boards as outlined in the proposed Act and boards may not do those things expressly prohibited by the Act or by regulation.

• Removes specific requirements related to the transportation of students allowing boards to be more responsive to the needs of their community when determining how to best provide safe and appropriate transportation to their students. Specific requirements, including the 2.4 km walk distance, will no longer be legislated.

• The proposed Education Act states school boards have the authority to make school closure decisions. Boards will be expected to establish and implement a policy on school closures, make this policy available to the public, notify parents and other affected people if they plan to close a school, and notify the Minister of a closure decision. The proposed Act puts boards in the position to make decisions about school buildings which support student achievement and make appropriate use of space. Currently, all school closures and building disposals must be approved by the Minister.

More information about the Education Act is available online at: http://www.education. alberta.ca/department/policy/education-act.aspx.

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