Back to school plans for students across Canada in the age of COVID-19

COVID-19 in Canada
COVID-19 in Canada

With the start of the school year drawing ever-closer, many parents and students are anxious about what the return to the classroom will look like for them. We’ve got a roundup of some of the back-to-school plans that have been released.


29 July 2020, Hessen, Frankfurt/Main: Bushra (7) is sitting in the classroom wearing a mask. Education Minister Lorz visits a so-called summer camp at the Liebfrauen Primary School during the school holidays. According to the ministry, more than 7000 students at over 130 Hessian schools are to be prepared for the coming school year with this form of teaching. Photo: Andreas Arnold/dpa (Photo by Andreas Arnold/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Bushra (7) is sitting in the classroom wearing a mask in Frankfurt, Germany on July 29, 2020. Photo: Andreas Arnold/dpa (Photo by Andreas Arnold/picture alliance via Getty Images)
  • Elementary students will be returning to the classroom full time, five days a week.

  • Returning to the classroom in September 2020 will be voluntary, based on the choice of parents. If parents do not with their child return to school, they can opt out.

  • Elementary school students will be in “cohorts,” grouped with the same students for recess and lunch. Class sizes will be the same as the maximum levels put in place before the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Elementary students will receive 300 minutes of instruction per day, and will remain with their cohort for the full day, including recess and lunch. Timing for recess, lunch and bathroom breaks will be staggered to support cohorting.

  • Elementary students will be able to leave their classroom to get additional instructional support, but direct and indirect interactions should be limited to approximately 50 people.

  • Secondary school students in designated school boards will attend school on alternating days in cohorts of about 15 students. “Designated school boards” are primarily in areas with high student density.

  • Secondary students in non-designated school boards will attend school full time.

  • On days when secondary students are not in the classroom and are remote learning, they will be assigned curriculum-linked independent work. Where possible, they will participate in synchronous learning with their teacher and classmates for a portion of the day.

  • Children with special needs who struggle with remote learning can attend school daily.

  • Students in Grades 4 through 12 are required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering while in school. Masks will be available, but students are also permitted to wear their own non-medical masks. Students in Kindergarten through Grade 3 are encouraged to wear masks but are not required to do so.

  • Teachers and staff will be provided with medical masks and eye protection (i.e. face shields).

  • Staff who are regularly in close contact with students will be provided with all necessary PPE. The provincial government will be providing school boards PPE and cleaning products and work closely with boards for distribution and delivery.

  • School boards have been asked to prepare for three different scenarios: 1. Normal school day with enhanced health and safety protocols; 2. Modified school day routine that would include cohorts and alternative day or week education delivery; and 3. At-home learning with remote delivery.

  • School boards are asked to be nimble, as they may need to switch which of these scenarios they are using through the school year.

  • Schools should be prepared to offer remote learning options for students and families who opt not to return to the classroom, and extend agreements to provide students with devices and internet connectivity if they were not able to otherwise access those resources.

  • Timetables should be such that students are only in contact with their “cohort” (including a single teacher) for as much of the school day as possible.

  • Over the course of a one or two-week period, timetables should ensure interactions with other students are limited to no more than 100, and students should be in a maximum of two in-person class cohorts.

  • Credits for secondary school students depend on 110-hours of course material delivery, which may mean shortening the in-class day in the adapted model of delivery for schools in designated boards.

  • Most schools in Ontario will open on September 8. School boards will provide teachers and staff with three professional development days prior to opening. All teachers and staff will participate in a paid one-day health and safety training.

  • The need to eliminate rotating teachers will require changes in how subjects like music, French or Anglais, art and physical education are delivered.

  • Boards are encouraged to offer regular, everyday timetabling for special education classes and participating students.

  • Schools should use procedures that encourage physical distancing, like tape on the floor, scheduling recess in smaller groups and holding outdoor physical education classes.

  • Minimize the use of personal belongings including backpacks, clothing and sunscreen — if brought, ask that the items be labelled and kept separate in the child’s area.

  • School boards should work with service providers to ensure that before- and after-school programming is available to support children and families.

  • Extra-curricular activities like organized sports and clubs can resume if social distancing can be maintained and spaces are disinfected between each use.

  • Students who develop COVID-19 symptoms will be isolated, and sent home. The student can return after they test negative, and are symptom-free for 24 hours.

You can read the province’s full back-to-school plan here.


  • Masks are mandatory for all students in Grade 5 (Elementary 5) and up when not in a classroom, including on school transportation like buses or public transit. This includes Secondary students when in common areas as well.

  • Each classroom will be its own bubble, and students will not be required to socially distance from classmates.

  • Students who are not in the same class must maintain one metre of social distance.

  • A distance of two metres must be maintained at all times between students and school staff. The exception is Kindergarten, where social distancing will not be required. PPE will be required for all Kindergarten and preschool teachers.

  • All children in elementary and secondary schools are expected to return to the classroom in September, with exceptions made for children with significant health problems; they will be offered a remote learning option.

  • All subjects will be taught, including Arts, Physical Education and Health.

  • For school boards with Secondary V and VI (equivalent to Grade 10 and 11) students, alternative arrangements (like special projects or changes to regular school schedules) can be made to accommodate students remaining in their class groups. In-school learning must be at least 50 per cent of the instruction time, accompanied by at-home learning.

  • Secondary students will remain within the same group of students for all subjects. Teachers will move between rooms depending on the subject they teach.

  • In the event of a second wave, students will be ensured access to distance learning services.

  • Updated emergency protocols must be in place for all school boards and private education institutions by the start of the school year. Protocols should include access to technological tools, adapted learning methods for distance education, and communication between schools and families.

You can read the province’s full back-to-school plan here.

British Columbia

  • Teachers will return to the classroom on Sept. 8 for two days of healthy and safety orientation and planning before students are in the classroom on Sept. 10.

  • Students will be returning to the classroom in September in Stage 2: in-class learning with learning group requirements.

  • Plans for specific school districts are available on all district websites as of Aug. 26.

  • Elementary and middle school learning groups are limited to 60 students, while secondary school learning groups are limited to 120.

  • Students will be instructed for the maximum instructional time possible within the learning group limits.

  • Groups by grade may be dropped in favour of building-specific cohorts.

  • Elementary and middle school students, as well as most secondary school students, will receive full time instruction within their cohort.

  • Some schools will divide the year into four and teach two courses at a time, while others will divide it into eight to teach one course at a time.

  • Self-directed learning will supplement in-class learning, if required.

  • Students who have complex medical conditions or underlying risk factors should consult with their doctor before returning to the classroom, and protective self-isolation only needs to occur in cases where the student is severely immunocompromised, or on a case-by-case basis.

  • Parents who don’t want to send their children back to school in person can register for online or distributed learning, based on availability, or home schooling.

  • Students and staff are not required to wear masks. It is not recommended that young children wear masks. Older students and staff will have non-medical masks provided upon request for use when the student is interacting outside of their learning group and maintaining social distancing isn’t possible, including riding the bus.

  • Two reusable masks per student will be provided.

  • It is recommended older students wear non-medical masks when riding the bus, but no student will be required to do so. Each student should have their own seat where possible, unless they are sitting with someone in their household or in their learning group.

  • If a student or staff member falls sick while at school, they will be put in isolation until they are able to return home, and the place where they were isolating will be cleaned by custodial staff.

  • Full-time class instruction will take place provided health and safety measures can be accommodated, including special needs instruction, mental health and well-being of students, options for students with complex medical needs.

  • Extracurricular activities including sports, band, choir, other arts and special interest groups can occur if social distancing can be maintained. However inter-school competitions cannot occur at this time.

  • All schools must submit a Social Emotional plan, to perform daily checks on the students’ mental health and emotional well-being.

You can read the province’s back-to-school plan here.


  • Cohorts of students will be created where possible.

  • Classrooms will be reorganized to encourage social distancing.

  • All students must have their own supplies, and equipment should be cleaned if students or staff share anything.

  • When riding the school bus, a loading and unloading procedure that supports distancing between people of two metres or more will be done where possible, and a protective zone will be maintained for the driver.

  • Parents, students, and school staff must complete self-screening measures daily before going to the school building.

  • Students showing COVID-19 symptoms with allergies or other pre-existing conditions should get at least one negative COVID-19 test before returning to school.

  • If a student shows symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, the parent will be asked to pick up the child immediately. The student will be asked to wear a non-medical mask and be isolated until they are able to be taken home. Parents will be notified if a COVID-19 case is confirmed in the school.

  • Teachers and staff are encouraged to get tested for COVID-19, even if they do not have symptoms.

  • Masks are mandatory for students in Grades 4 through 12 as well as staff where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including on school buses.

  • Masks are not required while the student is in a classroom if following physical distancing guidance.

  • Mask use is optional for students in Kindergarten through Grade 3.

  • All students will be provided with two reusable masks.

  • School staff will be provided with face shields to be used at their discretion, but a mask must always be worn with a face shield.

  • Foot traffic should be guided using markers on the floors or barriers and pylons.

  • Avoid large gatherings like assemblies.

  • School officials have the authorization to reduce time spent teaching non-core subjects to allow for additional instruction time on core subjects.

You can read the province’s back-to-school plan here.


  • All students Kindergarten through Grade 12 will return to the classroom on Sept. 8, 2020.

  • Some remote learning may be required for students Grade 9-12, depending on the ability of the school to maintain physical distancing and support contact tracing. Special needs students may return to school five days a week regardless of grade level.

  • Students who are unable to return to school due to personal or family health risks will be supported through remote learning.

  • Divisions must make sure all students learning remotely have access to technology.

  • Staff and students must stay home if sick or displaying symptoms.

  • Schools will need to consider how to manage foot traffic in hallways, entries and exits, and must stagger drop-offs and pickups.

  • Students must avoid interacting with others outside of their cohort. When on buses or during activities when physical distancing may not be possible, students told to emphasize other public health measures.

  • Technology education programming can continue if proper public health measures are observed.

  • Extra-curricular activities will be assessed by the school as to whether they can resume.

  • Parents are encouraged to transport their children to school whenever possible. Full guidelines for transportation are available.

  • Desks in classrooms will be space two metres apart, minimum one metre, which may result in smaller class groupings.

  • In-class students will be timetabled to avoid mixing of groups.

  • Core curriculum and required courses will be prioritized.

  • Electives may be made available remotely where possible.

You can read about the province’s back-to-school plan here.


  • School will resume across the province on September 8.

  • Students or staff who are ill are asked to stay at home.

  • There are four levels of learning as part of the back-to-school plan: 1. Full in-class learning with some additional safety measures; 2. Full in-class learning with mask usage by students and staff; 3. Reduced in-class learning; and 4. Alternative learning offered by divisions.

  • For schools entering Level 2 (return to classroom with masks), students in Grade 4 through 12 and staff are required to wear masks in high traffic areas including hallways and buses.

  • In Grade 9-12 classrooms where physical distancing cannot be maintained or if a student must attend a class outside their cohort, students may also be required to wear a mask in the classroom.

  • Cohorts will be established for students and teachers, aiming to limit teachers to a set number of students and keeping students in one cohort whenever possible.

  • Creative solutions are recommended for high school settings where cohorting is more challenging.

  • Students will be taught in a front-facing style, and start times, breaks and end times will be staggered when possible.

  • Priority COVID-19 testing is taking place for teachers and school staff ahead of the school year.

  • Division-specific plans are available on the division websites.

You can read the province’s full back-to-school plan here.

Nova Scotia

  • In-class instruction will resume for students in September.

  • Enhanced cleaning measures and greater emphasis on hand-washing, hygiene and physical distancing will occur in schools.

  • School bus riders and drivers will be required to wear masks while on the bus.

  • Lockers will not be available for students.

  • Students in Grades 4-12 and all staff will be required to wear a mask when they are unable to physically distance by two metres, including in the classroom.

  • Large gatherings, assemblies, sporting events and school social events will not be permitted.

  • More than 13,000 devices have been purchased for students who do not have the required technology for distance learning, as required.

  • In the event a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, public health will be notified, and a continued learning plan is in place to support students who are unable to be in the classroom.

You can read the province’s full back-to-school plan here.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • In-person classes will resume on September 9.

  • Each school will develop a strategy based on the size of the school population and the space available.

  • Schools will move to online learning in the event of an outbreak, and limit classroom capacity to 50 per cent.

  • Families have the option to teach their children at home if they don’t want to send them back to the classroom.

  • School buses that can accommodate up to 72 students will now transport at maximum 46.

  • Secondary school students will be required to wear masks inside school buildings in common areas, but not in classrooms.

  • All students must wear masks on buses.

  • Students will be cohorted by class where possible.

  • Staff will routinely self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure.

  • Students will be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms by parents before school.

  • Any signs of illness (including a mild cold) require students or staff to stay home.

  • A “no sharing” policy will be in place for all belongings and supplies.

  • No large gatherings or assemblies.

You can read the province’s full back-to-school plan here.

New Brunswick

  • Every student will bring a mask to school daily but it is not required to be worn inside the classroom.

  • Masks are mandatory for students in Grades 6-12 in school buses and in common areas. Face masks are encouraged but optional for students in Kindergarten-Grade 5.

  • Teachers in Kindergarten-Grade 8 can choose whether or not to wear a face mask or shield (within their classroom bubble). Masks are mandatory for Grade 9-12 teachers when they are not able to physically distance.

  • Curtains will be installed to create a barrier between the bus driver and students on school buses.

  • On the school bus, students will sit in the same spot every day and buses will be filled back to front. Masks do not need to be worn on the bus if

  • Parents will screen children before attending school each day for COVID-19 symptoms.

  • Water fountains will be replaced with water bottle filling stations.

  • Students in Kindergarten-Grade 8 will be in reduced class sizes.

  • Modified timetables will be implemented to allow for distancing.

  • Class groups and physical distancing will be maintained during recess, breaks and lunch.

  • Access to schools will be limited to permit for contact tracing and to limit the flow of people.

  • Class sizes for Kindergarten-Grade 2 will be reduced to 15 students when possible, Grade 3-5 to 22 students when possible.

  • Secondary school students must attend school every other day at minimum, but may have blended learning environment of distance learning and in-person instruction.

  • Shared materials (computers, musical instruments, physical education equipment) will be disinfected between each use.

  • Material that cannot be disinfected (e.g. Play-doh) must be restricted to use by one student only.

  • Students in Grades 6-12 will be required to disinfect their chairs and desks after each class.

  • Extra-curricular activities and field trips will be permitted, if Kindergarten-Grade 8 students can remain in their bubble, and if Grade 9-12 students can physically distance.

For links to the province’s full back-to-school documents, click here.