YOUTH & THE LAW | But Do I Have To Go To School?: Education laws in Alberta - LawNow Magazine

YOUTH & THE LAW | But Do I Have To Go To School?: Education laws in Alberta

COVID-19 has changed everything! One of the biggest changes for youth? School buildings are closed. But school has not been cancelled! It has simply moved online. So just in case you’ve forgotten how to ‘do school’, this column focuses on the laws about school in Alberta.

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The Education Act sets out the law for all things school-related in Alberta. The following list covers some of the important provisions of the Act from a student’s perspective:

Right to an Education

If you are aged 6 to 18 years and live in Alberta, you have a right to access education.

Attendance at School

If you are under the age of 16, you must attend school. If you do not, the school can take steps to make sure you attend. A judge can also make an order allowing someone from the school to enter into a place where you are and take you home or to school. There is an exception if you finish high school before you turn 16.

If you are continuously absent from school, the school can refer your case to the Attendance Board. The Attendance Board consists of members from across the province appointed by the Minister of Education. If your school refers you to the Attendance Board, one or three members will form a panel. They will host a meeting (called a case conference) with you, your parents and school staff. If your attendance issue cannot be resolved at the case conference, then the Attendance Board can schedule a formal hearing. At the hearing, the Attendance Board can:

  • direct that you attend school
  • direct that your parent send you to school
  • direct that you take a certain education program
  • report the matter to a child intervention worker
  • impose a fine on your parent of $100 or less per day for each day you do not attend school. The total maximum amount your parent will have to pay is $1000.
  • give any other direction it thinks is appropriate in the circumstances.
French Education

The Alberta government sets the curriculum for most Alberta students.Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that French speakers in a province where French is the minority language spoken have a right to education in French. The same is true for English speakers in a province where English is the minority language spoken. This means that French speakers in Alberta have a right to a French education. Franco-Albertans have the right to manage and control French-language schools. Today, there are four French-language school boards in Alberta. French is also widely taught as a second language in schools across the province.

The Curriculum

The Alberta government sets the curriculum for most Alberta students. It contains certain learning objectives. However, depending on specific learning contexts, teachers get to decide how they teach the material, including which appropriate resources to use. So your friend in another class or school is learning the same things but maybe in different ways.

Types of Schools

There are different types of schools in Alberta:

  • Public schools are funded by the Alberta government.
  • Private schools can be operated by anyone the Minister approves. Private schools are either accredited (students write provincial exams and are taught by Alberta certified teachers) or registered (instructors are not required to have Alberta teaching certificates). Private schools can charge tuition. Some accredited private schools receive funding from the Alberta government.
  • Charter schools are operated by societies or charitable organizations and approved by the Minister of Education. They usually offer an alternative program.

The Education Act also provides for diverse and flexible learning opportunities, including alternative programs, early childhood services programs, off-campus education programs and continuing education programs. The Act also provides for home education (or homeschool) programs, which must follow certain guidelines.

Responsibilities of Students and Parents

The Education Act sets out the law for all things school-related in Alberta.Under the Act, you as a student have the following responsibilities:

  • Attend school regularly and on-time
  • Be ready to learn and engage in your education
  • Conduct yourself in a way that contributes to a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment for everyone
  • Respect the rights of others at school
  • Not tolerate, not participate in and not be afraid to report bullying
  • Follow the rules of the school and the school board
  • Be accountable for your conduct to your teacher and other school staff
  • Positively contribute to your school and community.

Under the Act, your parent has the following responsibilities:

  • Act as the primary guide and decision-maker about your education
  • Take an active role in your success, including helping you meet your responsibilities
  • Make sure you attend school regularly
  • Conduct themselves in a way that contributes to a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment
  • Co-operate and work with school staff to help you learn
  • Encourage and maintain collaborative, positive and respectful relationships with teachers, principals and other school staff
  • Engage in your school community.
Student Discipline

If you misbehave at school, you can be suspended or expelled. Misbehaviour includes not complying with your responsibilities (see above) or distributing an intimate image of another person without their consent.

If you are under the age of 16, you must attend school.Your teacher can suspend you from one class period. Your principal can suspend you from school, one or more class periods, from taking school transportation, or from any other school-related activity. If your principal suspends you, they will call your parents and provide an opportunity for your parents to meet with them to discuss the suspension. If you are 16 or older, you can be in the meeting too. A suspension cannot be longer than 5 school days.

You can be expelled from school for more serious misbehavior. First, the principal will suspend you. Then the principal will recommend to the school board that you be expelled. You and your parent may talk to the board about the proposed expulsion. Within 10 days of the start of your suspension, the board must make a decision to return you to school or to expel you.


A lot of rules are in place to regulate education in Alberta. Within the boundaries of these rules, schools can still adapt to the needs of their students. Ultimately, the school experience is a combination of everyone’s efforts to create a positive learning environment. The more you get involved in different aspects of school, the more you may feel in control of your learning.


Jessica Steingard
Jessica Steingard
Jessica Steingard, BCom, JD, is a staff lawyer at the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.

A Publication of CPLEA