A number of programs, supports and services exist in schools and communities to help children and students become engaged and successful learners. This section highlights the learning commons, learning and technology, guidance and counselling, and collaborations to support children, youth and their families.

Those responsible for the implementation of education programs and the operation of schools must consider a number of matters related to the provision of a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment for students. Information is provided about the duty to report when it is believed that a child is in need of intervention; supporting students with Type 1 diabetes in schools; guidelines for time-out in Alberta schools; human sexuality education; the use of human tissue and fluid in educational programming; controversial issues; notice under section 58.1 of the Education Act; student organizations and activities; and protecting student privacy.

Learning Commons

The goal of the learning commons is to enable all students to be engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. The concept of a learning commons is a shift in thinking from a library as a physical space that is a repository of books, to an inclusive, flexible, learner-centred, physical and/or virtual space for collaboration, inquiry, imagination and play to expand and deepen learning. A learning commons is an agile and responsive learning and teaching environment available to individuals and groups to use for multiple, often simultaneous, purposes. It supports literacy, numeracy, competency development and student learning outcomes through access to and instruction in the effective use of print and digital resources. The learning commons approach functions best when learning experiences in the school community are coordinated to support student learning outcomes through collaborative planning, teaching and assessing.

The learning commons should

  • support the development of competencies in many areas, including the gathering, analysis and evaluation of information
  • provide support, space and resources for inquiry, play and imagination
  • provide support, resources and opportunities for transferability of learning to support broad exploration and inquiry that leads to deeper learning
  • provide and support technology for learning to enable creation, collaboration and communication
  • provide student access to and guidance on the use of
    • online public access catalogues (OPAC)
    • online licensed and open access resources
    • quality print and digital learning resources in multiple formats that are reviewed to ensure they address a diverse range of student learning and developmental needs
  • focus on quality learning resources in multiple formats and provide exposure to a wide variety of Canadian and international resources (fiction and non-fiction) which reflect multiple perspectives, promote literacy and numeracy, and develop students’ interests and competencies beyond the school setting. These resources should include those that
    • recognize and respect Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing of First Nations, Métis and Inuit
    • reflect and support the cultural and linguistic perspectives of Francophone communities
  • provide high quality learning resources in English, French and other languages, as applicable, in order to support instruction and self-directed reading
  • be flexible enough to provide teacher support in person or via technology, in varied full-time equivalencies or shared among schools/districts
  • continue to promote intellectual freedom

Learning and Technology Policy Framework

The Learning and Technology Policy Framework is a decision‑making guide for government and school authorities to support effective, innovative integration of technology into the learning environment. The vision is student-centred and emphasizes the importance of supporting students in using technology to achieve the competencies identified in the Alberta programs of study.

The policy framework is a roadmap—a set of principles, policy directions, outcomes and actions intended to guide decision makers at all levels, from government to the classroom. Making decisions that align with the common vision will help ensure those decisions complement each other and ensure the greatest benefits for students. The policy framework identifies five interdependent policy directions to achieve the vision: Student-Centred Learning; Research and Innovation; Professional Learning; Leadership; and Access, Infrastructure and Digital Learning Environments.

For more information, see the Learning and Technology Policy Framework on Alberta.ca.

School Guidance and Counselling

School authorities have the responsibility to meet the needs of all students and enable their success. This is facilitated by the development of a continuum of supports and services. School-based supports, such as school guidance and counselling, address students’ educational, personal, social, emotional and career needs. Each school authority determines its approach based on its learners, resources and community context.

School guidance and counselling involves collaborative partnerships that support learner success. This may involve a school counsellor or other school staff and parents and/or guardians working together with community services and professionals. For more information regarding collaborative practices and partnerships, visit Collaborating to support students on Alberta.ca.

Through school guidance and counselling and other strategies focused on awareness, communication, prevention and intervention, school communities are able to build welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments that support healthy relationships and facilitate student learning.

Collaborating to Support Children, Youth and Their Families

In accordance with the Education Act, schools boards have a number of responsibilities, including

  • delivering appropriate education programming to meet the needs of all students enrolled
  • providing a continuum of supports and services to students that is consistent with the principles of inclusive education
  • collaborating with municipalities, other boards and community-based service agencies in order to effectively address the needs of all students and manage the use of public resources

A variety of resources to support cross-sector collaboration and partnering have been developed through various cross-ministry initiatives. Some of these include the Working Together Toolkit, Collaborative Practices resources and Alberta’s Information Sharing Strategy. For more information, see Collaborating to support students on Alberta.ca.

Alberta Education, school authority staff and partners engage in many collaborative practices, embedding the principles of a wraparound approach to support children, youth and families. Examples of other collaborative initiatives include Success in School for children and youth in care and the Alberta Mentoring Partnership.

Duty to Report

The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act imposes the duty to report on a person who believes a child is in need of intervention. School personnel have ongoing contact with children and youth and are often the first to notice changes in behaviour or appearance. Research indicates that the confidence of staff to detect indicators of abuse, respond supportively and report to authorities is enhanced with regular communication about warning signs and procedures for reporting. It is important to note the following:

  • It is mandatory to report, and permission is not required.
  • It is the responsibility of the person who has recognized issues of concern or received reports regarding the child to notify Child and Family Services, the Child Abuse Hotline or the police/RCMP. Notification must come from the person who received the information first hand and not from a third party.
  • It is not the role of the school to investigate suspected abuse.
  • It is important to be aware of board policies regarding sharing information with the principal.

For more information, see Preventing child abuse – information for educators on Alberta.ca or contact School and Community Supports. For contact information, see Appendix 1.

Supporting Students with Type 1 Diabetes in Schools

Alberta Education is committed to ensuring a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that enables each child/student, including those with medical needs, to meaningfully participate in school and school activities.

The purpose of Guidelines for Supporting Students with Type 1 Diabetes in Schools is to provide information on how schools and/or school authorities, parents/guardians, healthcare professionals and community service providers can work together to support children and students with Type 1 diabetes in school and during school activities (e.g., field trips, athletic events, class parties). It also identifies roles and responsibilities for the child/student, parent/guardian, school and/or school authority and provides resources to assist with supporting children/students with Type 1 diabetes in school and on school activities.

This document works in conjunction with existing policies, programs and resources provided by Alberta Education, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services.

For more information, see Students with medical needs on Alberta.ca.

Guidelines for Time-out in Alberta Schools

Guidelines for Time-out in Alberta Schools provides guidance for school authorities on the use of time-out in schools. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide clarity and a common set of expectations on the use of time-out in schools, in addition to evidence-informed practices.

Human Sexuality Education

Human sexuality education is mandated by the Human Sexuality Education Policy and is taught at several levels in Alberta, including the Grade 4 to Grade 9 Health and Life Skills program and the senior high school Career and Life Management (CALM) course.

Human sexuality education shall be taught within the normal school day and may be offered through different instructional structures. The learning outcomes outlined in current programs (Health and Life Skills and CALM) for human sexuality are prescribed, but they need not be offered exclusively through those courses. Many schools have developed programs through family life or religion classes.

Notice and Exemption from Human Sexuality Instruction

The Education Act requires boards (including charter schools) and private schools to provide parents with notice where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality. Where a parent makes a written request, a student shall be exempt, without academic penalty, from such instruction, course of study, educational program or use of instructional material.

For more information, see the Human Sexuality Education Policy and Notice Under Section 58.1 of the Education Act, or contact the Early Middle Years (K–9) Branch or the High School Careers (K–12), Arts & Wellness, Languages and Locally Developed Courses Branch. For contact information, see Appendix 1.

Use of Human Tissue and Fluid in Educational Programs

Alberta Education firmly believes that the safety and well-being of students, teachers and other school staff should be a first consideration in the selection of materials for study. Therefore, all activities involving the extraction and analysis of samples of human fluid or tissue are prohibited in Alberta schools.

Controversial Issues

Controversial issues are those topics that are publicly sensitive and upon which there is no consensus of values or beliefs. They include topics on which reasonable people may sincerely disagree. Opportunities to deal with these issues are an integral part of student learning in Alberta.

Studying controversial issues is important in preparing students to participate responsibly in a democratic and pluralistic society. Such study provides opportunities to develop the ability to think clearly, to reason logically, to open-mindedly and respectfully examine different points of view and to make sound judgements.

Teachers, students and others participating in studies or discussions of controversial issues need to exercise sensitivity to ensure that students and others are not ridiculed, embarrassed or intimidated for positions that they hold on controversial issues.

Discussing or studying controversial issues provides opportunities to

  • present alternative points of view, subject to the condition that information presented is not restricted by any federal or provincial law
  • reflect the maturity, capabilities and educational needs of the students
  • meet the requirements of provincially prescribed and approved courses and programs of study and education programs
  • reflect the neighbourhood and community in which the school is located, as well as provincial, national and international contexts

Controversial issues that have been anticipated by the teacher, and those that may arise incidentally during instruction, should be used by the teacher to promote critical inquiry and/or to teach thinking skills.

The school plays a supportive role to parents in the areas of values and moral development and shall handle parental decisions in regard to controversial issues with respect and sensitivity.

Notice Under Section 58.1 of the Education Act

Section 58.1 of the Education Act requires boards (including charter schools) and private schools to provide parents with notice where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality. Where a parent makes a written request, a student shall be exempt, without academic penalty, from such instruction, course of study, educational program or use of instructional material. These requirements do not apply to incidental or indirect references to religion, religious themes or human sexuality.

The notice to parents required under section 58.1 of the Education Act does not apply to the establishment of, or student membership or participation in, student-led organizations such as gay-straight alliances, diversity clubs, anti-racism clubs and anti-bullying clubs as per section 35.1 of the Education Act. Section 58.1 applies to circumstances where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.

The requirements in this legislation are not intended to disrupt instruction or the discussion of controversial issues in the classroom. Teachers and school administrators should continue to respectfully handle the decisions and perspectives of parents when providing instruction and choosing instructional materials. Section 58.1 of the Education Act continues to call on teachers and school administrators to exercise their professional judgement to determine when notice should be provided to parents and to handle complaints or concerns raised by parents.

Determining When to Provide Notice to Parents

The Alberta programs of study contain the provincially mandated learning outcomes for students, achieved through the instructional choices made by certificated teachers. In light of the requirements in section 58.1, Alberta Education has done a review of the programs of study to identify those courses that contain outcomes that deal primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality. The following courses have been identified as containing outcomes that require notification under section 58.1:

  • Career and Life Management (CALM) → human sexuality
  • Career and Technology Studies (CTS) → Reproduction & Readiness for Parenting (HCS3050) → human sexuality
  • Career and Technology Studies (CTS) → Developing Maturity & Independence (HSS1040) → human sexuality
  • Health and Life Skills (Grades 4, 5 and 6) → human sexuality
  • Health and Life Skills (Grades 7, 8 and 9) → human sexuality
  • Religious Ethics 20 → religion
  • Religious Meanings 20 → religion
  • World Religions 30 → religion

Notification under section 58.1 may also be required for locally developed courses that contain subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.

Depending upon the choices teachers make in how outcomes are taught and the instructional materials that will be used, other courses or programs of study may also require notification to parents under section 58.1. When determining whether notification is required, teachers or boards may wish to consider the following:

  1. Notification is required where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, contain subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.
    • For the course of study, educational program or instructional material, or instruction or exercise, to be considered to deal explicitly with religion or human sexuality, there must be no question that the subject matter is intended to be about religion or human sexuality. A religious interpretation of an otherwise non‑religious subject matter would not be considered explicit. For example, the intent of including evolution in the science programs of study is to explore its foundation in scientific theory. Although there may be religious interpretations of the origin of life, the inclusion of evolution is not intended to be explicitly about religion. Similarly, in order to be considered explicitly about “human sexuality,” a course of study, educational program or instructional material, or instruction or exercise, must also address human sexual behaviours. Therefore, outcomes within the science programs of study that deal only with the anatomy and physiology of human reproduction are not explicitly about human sexuality; however, outcomes in CALM that examine aspects of healthy sexuality and responsible sexual behaviour are explicitly about human sexuality.
    • Even if the subject matter deals explicitly with religion or human sexuality, the course of study, educational program or instructional material, or instruction or exercises, must also primarily deal with religion or human sexuality. For example, even though various outcomes in the social studies programs of study include explicit references to “religion,” the outcomes are primarily about the core concepts of citizenship and identity. Similarly, notification is not required where instructional materials contain subject matter that explicitly deals with religion or human sexuality, unless those instructional materials are also primarily about one of these subjects.
  2. Section 58.1 is clear that notification to parents is not required for indirect or incidental references to religion, religious themes or human sexuality in a course of study, educational program or instructional material, or instruction or exercise.
    • Where a reference to religion, religious themes or human sexuality occurs indirectly or in connection to another subject matter in classroom discussions, notification is not required. Therefore, teachers should not avoid topics where these subject matters may arise nor should they feel the need to stop classroom discussion.
    • Similarly, where a course of study, educational program or instructional material, or instruction or exercise, does not already deal primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality, references to these subject matters in student projects or presentations would be considered incidental and notification would not be required.
  3. Section 58.1 does not apply to student behaviour or interactions that are not related to courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises. Therefore, it does not affect the ability of boards and teachers to address bullying or disciplinary issues, including those related to religion or human sexuality.

How to Provide Notice to Parents

Notification to parents under section 58.1 should be in writing and allow the parent enough time to request that their child be exempted from the course of study, educational program or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, at issue. Section 58.1 does not require teachers or boards to obtain parental consent before providing the course of study, educational program or instructional materials, or instruction or exercise. Notification procedures must include the following:

  1. A notice must be provided to the parent indicating that a particular outcome or component of a course of study, educational program or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, includes subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality. A sample notice form can be found in Appendix 4.
  2. In the circumstance where a student is registering for a specific course of study or educational program that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality, notice may be given to the parent on the registration form for said course of study or educational program, identifying that the course of study or educational program, or a portion thereof, is primarily and explicitly about religion or human sexuality. A parent so notified is encouraged to give notice of their request for exemption at the time of registration.
  3. A separate board, a board that offers an alternative program that emphasizes a particular religion, or a board that has the teaching of religion or faith-based education programs on its premises may wish to give notice of religious instruction by providing a clear statement on registration forms indicating to parents that they are enrolling their child in a school where religious courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, are used.

Exclusion from Instruction

Where a parent makes a written request, section 58.1 requires a teacher to exclude a student, without academic penalty, from the course of study, educational program or instructional material that includes subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality. The parent should indicate in the written request whether they want the student to leave the classroom or place where the instruction or exercise is taking place or whether they want the student to remain in the classroom without taking part. A sample exemption form can be found in Appendix 4.

How to Address Concerns or Complaints from Parents

Boards (including charter schools) must ensure that concerns or complaints from parents are addressed in an open, fair, objective and timely manner, and in accordance with their appeal procedures as required by section 42 of the Education Act. Private schools should address any concerns or complaints that arise via local school policies and procedures that have been established. All schools and teachers are encouraged to resolve concerns or complaints from parents regarding the requirements in section 58.1 at the local level.

Student Organizations and Activities

As stated in the Education Act, every student is entitled to a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. Under section 197 of the Education Act, a principal of a school has a legislated duty to provide this environment.

As per section 35.1 of the Education Act, students are entitled to create or join a voluntary student organization or activity that promotes a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. Anti-racism clubs, anti-bullying clubs, gay-straight alliances (GSAs) or queer-straight alliances (QSAs), and diversity clubs are examples of such student organizations.

The following are steps to create a student organization or activity:

  1. One or more students ask a staff member at the school to start an organization or activity.
  2. The principal permits the establishment of the student organization or activity.
  3. The principal designates a staff liaison to support the organization or activity.
  4. The students select a respectful and inclusive organization or activity name.
  5. If the principal cannot find a staff liaison, the principal informs both the board and the Minister, and then the Minister will appoint a responsible adult.
  6. The students, with support from their staff liaison, plan next steps, such as meeting dates, times and activities.

Additional information for principals can be found on Alberta.ca.

Protecting Student Privacy

School authorities are required by privacy laws to protect personal information and may only disclose personal information if authorized under these laws. Public schools must follow the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act, and private schools must adhere to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).

When a student participates in an activity, two types of permissions may be relevant:

  1. Consent for the student to participate in the activity
  2. Consent for the school authority to disclose personal information as part of facilitating that activity

Both types of consent can be obtained electronically or digitally, but school authorities will need to follow specific legislative requirements in order for consent to disclose personal information to be valid.

Consent Forms for School Activities

School authorities must follow Alberta’s privacy laws. Participation in school activities not included in a student record, such as an extracurricular activity or membership in a student organization, cannot be disclosed without legal authority.

Parental consent may be required for many student activities, particularly where students are leaving school property. Privacy considerations for activities linked to courses of study and the delivery of educational programs are different from considerations for activities related to voluntary student organizations or extracurricular events. School authorities should exercise particular care when obtaining electronic or digital consent. Electronic or digital consent forms sent directly to parents may be appropriate when seeking consent for curriculum related activities or activities during instructional time.

However, additional considerations may be necessary when obtaining parental consent for optional activities, such as field trips or out-of-school activities related to student organizations, sporting teams or extracurricular events. In these cases, students should be informed that parental consent is required to participate and that certain personal information will need to be disclosed to obtain that permission. This allows students to make an informed choice on whether they want to ask their parent for consent to participate.

Where a student is an independent student under the Education Act, school authorities will need to obtain consent from the independent student, who can sign the student’s own consent, and not the parent.

FOIP/PIPA Consent

School authorities should consider whether a general FOIP or PIPA consent form signed by a parent is sufficient to cover all activities that may occur throughout the school year. General consent forms are often used to cover situations where student personal information may be included in yearbooks, newsletters, print and electronic publications, websites, social media, videos, presentations, displays and other forms of communication. There may be circumstances where a school authority will need to obtain consent for a particular activity that is taking place.

School authorities should have a designated privacy (FOIP or PIPA) officer to provide advice on these matters and to ensure that personal information is handled appropriately. If school authorities have questions related to privacy laws, they should contact the Service Alberta HelpDesk at 780-427-5848 (toll-free by first dialing 310-0000).