The new Education Act is being hailed for addressing bullying, and raising the permitted ages for dropping out of school and accessing free public education.
Speaking to news media in Red Deer on Wednesday, Premier Alison Redford said the act addresses parental roles, as well as the roles of student and parent councils.
“We’re really proud of the work that’s being done with bullying,” said Redford. “It really broadly defines bullying and we know how unfortunate circumstances can be and how important it is to be able to do that.”
The act speaks to teachers, school boards and parent councils working together on delivering better curriculum, she said.
“It’s really foundational. You don’t pass an Education Act every year,” said Redford.
“This is something you put in place because you really do think it will define what the future of the province will look like and how you want to educate your kids, how you want your schools to be organized.”
The Education Act replaces the School Act, which had been around for more than 20 years. It was passed in the legislature on Monday.
Red Deer Public Schools officials are heralding the new Education Act for raising the mandatory age of attendance to 17 from 16 years old.
It also increases the age at which students can still access free education, particularly if they want to complete high school. That age rose to 21 from 19.
Chairman Lawrence Lee said that district officials always thought that the age of 16 was too low to allow teens to drop out.
Increasing the age for free education is a great idea, he added.
The public school district is working with Red Deer College on a potential pilot project where students up to 21 would be able to do programs like welding or robotics at the college.
“Education is a constantly evolving system and the new act reflects the significance of local governance and its ability to be flexible to the diverse and unique needs that many of the communities in Alberta reflect,” said Lee, who was formally introduced by Red Deer North MLA Mary-Anne Jablonski during last week’s opening of Education Act talks in the legislature.
Adriana LaGrange, chairwoman of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said she’s overall impressed with the act because it highlights the strengths of the education system and it brings it in line with the 21st century.
It’s the first legislation in Canada to formally recognize the role of parents as a child’s first and most important teacher.
LaGrange also applauds the new act for giving schools boards and divisions more flexibility in doing the best for each and every child, including those with specialized needs.
The act also focuses on schools being a safe place, including addressing bullying. Specifics on bullying will be addressed in supporting regulations.
Those regulations will likely be developed over a couple of years, said LaGrange.
The province says it needs time for both the department and stakeholders to undertake extensive reviews necessary to align applicable policies, procedures and practices following the review of regulations.
Larry Jacobs, superintendent for Wolf Creek Public Schools in Ponoka, supports the new framework around anti-social behaviour, which calls for school divisions, parents and others in the education system to be proactive about behaviours like bullying.
Jacobs also applauded the move to allow school boards to have natural persons powers.
Natural person powers provide school boards with the authority to do any legal thing a natural person may do except when specifically prohibited by the act or by regulations. Natural person powers give boards more administrative flexibility to deliver educational programming.
Jacobs said that boards can now do anything except what will be prohibited under the Education Act. It will set out certain parameters within the weeks and months ahead, he added.
He also likes that the age limit for access to publicly-funded education has been increased to include individuals younger than 21 as of Sept. 1.
“We do have a lot of students who leave school and they go to work, and then they realize they want to go back to school. They would have had to pay quite an increase in fees.”
It’s also nice for students who attend outreach schools, such as in the case of some single mothers who may need to go to school longer, Jacobs said.