September will come with more than the usual amount of back-to-school jitters as parents, teachers and students grapple with how to return to class safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each province plans on reopening schools in the fall — with varying requirements for keeping kids at a distance from one another, and Ontario is the only province to mandate that all students from Grades 4 to 12 don a mask. All provinces ask that students and teachers who feel unwell stay home rather than go to school, and require additional cleaning measures and stringent hand-washing routines.
Experts at SickKids released a document last week, saying smaller classes are key to limiting kids’ contacts, and that younger students should remain at least one metre apart, and teens two. They also recommended that masks should be used by high school students when physical distancing is difficult.
Here’s how each province is planning to bring students back to class:
B.C. was the only province in Canada to open all schools at the end of the previous school year — albeit on a part-time basis, with voluntary attendance.
Now the provincial health officer has announced a plan to return all students to school full-time, with in-class instruction. The distinguishing feature of B.C.’s back to school plan is the creation of “learning groups” — essentially social bubbles within schools that will set caps on the number of students able to socialize with one another outside of their own classrooms.
For elementary school students, the learning groups have a maximum of 60 students, while the number is 120 for high school students.
The B.C. teachers’ union has come out against the back-to-school plan, saying it’s too early in the pandemic to bring a full cohort of students back to classrooms safely.
Masks will not be mandatory in B.C. classrooms, but will be recommended where social distancing isn’t possible. The province will be making masks available in schools.
Alberta will be bringing students back to school for full-time in-class instruction in the fall.
The province’s back-to-school plan emphasizes cleaning of surfaces, and spreading messages to students and parents about physical distancing and hand sanitizing.
The plan allows for the possibility of staggering break times so that fewer students socialize together at the same time.
Masks will not be required under Alberta’s plan, but the Calgary board of education is recommending them for the start of the school year.
Saskatchewan has announced a phased approach to back-to-school, whereby the return of in-class learning depends on whether the province keeps case counts of COVID-19 to a minimum. The plan provides for the possibility of a return to at-home instruction if the province sees a COVID-19 resurgence.
Saskatchewan has not yet announced which phase of its back-to-school strategy will be in effect come September, but plans to do so next week.
Masks will be optional.
All students will return to in-class instruction in the fall in Manitoba — but high school students may still be learning with a mix of online and in-class teaching.
High schools will decide on individual plans for bringing students back to school, with the requirement that the students must interact within “cohorts” with a maximum size of 75.
A likely result is that high school students will learn in-class for only two days a week.
Students in Grade 8 and below will go back to school full-time.
Masks will not be required.
Most of Ontario’s students will return to traditional classrooms full-time in September.
Elementary students and many high schoolers will be in school five days a week in standard class sizes, while secondary students at two dozen boards that are higher risk will only attend class half the time in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Those high schoolers will have a maximum class size of 15 and receive “curriculum-linked independent work” when they are not in school. Some of it will have to be live video conferencing or other so-called “synchronous” learning.
Students in grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear masks in class, while younger kids are encouraged to do so.
Quebec released its fall back-to-school plan in June. It was one of only two provinces to send students back to school before the end of the 2019-20 school year, but reneged on plans to return Montreal students to classes as the city tackled one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country.
The plan includes strict physical distancing rules. Students up to Grade 9 will have to keep two metres between one another, except for small “subgroups” comprising six students each.
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For older students, schools can decide to implement similar “subgroups” or stagger school attendance to every second day, with half of the instruction happening online.
Quebec’s education ministry has confirmed it has not changed the back-to-school plan announced in June, as neighbouring jurisdictions such as Ontario released their strategies.
Quebec will not be requiring students and staff to wear masks.
New Brunswick announced a return-to-school plan with significant physical distancing measures in June.
Students in Grade 5 and below will only interact in groups of 15, with class sizes likely larger than that. Middle school students will be asked only to interact with other members of their classrooms, and high school students will return on a staggered basis, taking about half their instruction online.
The province quickly reversed a decision to make masks mandatory in public buildings last month, and they will not be required.
Nova Scotia plans to return students to school in the fall with classrooms reorganized for physical distancing, and students restricted to socializing within their classroom bubbles.
The province will require high school students to wear masks in circumstances where physical distancing is not possible, but students won’t have to wear masks in classrooms where desks are spaced apart.
School gatherings and assemblies will be cancelled, and students will be required to eat lunch at their desks.
The province will require masks for high school students in common areas, and for all students on school buses.
Prince Edward Island
Students will return to school in Prince Edward Island full-time in September, with classrooms rearranged for physical distancing, staggered break times and the promotion of social contact only within “cohorts.”
The province also plans to reduce bus routes, asking parents to transport their kids to school if they can.
Students and staff may be asked to wear masks in common areas.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador will send students back to class full-time in September — unless an uptick in coronavirus cases changes course for the province.
The province released three scenarios at the beginning of July: a full return with extra physical distancing, a partial return or the cancellation of classes. The province has not yet officially announced which scenario it will use come the fall.
Newfoundland and Labrador does not recommend masks for kids, but says students and staff may choose to wear one.
With files from The Canadian Press