With the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 looming, Rachel Chua Wilson, principal of Beaconsfield High School, doesn't know how many students will return to classrooms.
"As a principal and an educator, I feel really sad about students not being in the hall," she said.
"The whole reason we go into this profession is because we want to make an impact on society and be able to have kids in the building, so it's very eerie and very weird."
The school's common rooms, including the library, will be used as an area for teachers to store their belongings over the course of the day.
"Because the students will be stationary and teachers are going to be moving, there's not really a place for [teachers] to lay their stuff," Wilson said.
The government has outlined new rules schools will have to follow when they start welcoming students back as of next week, including mandatory masks for Grade 5 and up — but the rules haven't done much to quell the concerns of parents and teachers.
Still, schools across the province are making changes to the way space is organized and how classes are held in an attempt to keep everyone safe.
For example, this year at Beaconsfield High School, teenage students will have a little less freedom. Although they might find themselves in the same core class as their peers, their choice of optional courses — often CEGEP program prerequisites — will be limited to ensure physical distancing rules are respected.
"The unfortunate side is that students may not get the option they want, but the positive thing is that they get to explore something that they wouldn't have necessarily thought about."
The administration worked an additional week at the beginning of July to ensure students in different grades would remain separated during the school year.
"That definitely had an impact on how we planned, how we hired — what our needs are," Wilson said. "Some of our classes might have nine kids in them."
Wilson says students in Grade 10 and 11 will benefit from smaller group instruction by coming in one day out of two to minimize the number of people in the school at a given time.
She says parents who don't live with immunocompromised family members are still debating whether to send their kids to school for in-person classes.
If a student at school shows symptoms, they will be moved to an isolation room until their parents can pick them up.
"We really don't know how the protocol will pan out, but we're confident that we have pretty calm people who can handle the situation."
Wilson says the Lester B. Pearson school board promises that plexiglass dividers will be installed throughout the building by the time school starts on Aug. 31.
Heightened measures for younger kids
Before stepping into their classrooms, students at Allion Elementary in LaSalle will have to make a few pit stops.
Teachers will ask them to line up by colourful stickers, pasted on the ground as a reminder to keep their distance, while leading them to a hand sanitizer station embellished with an impressive stop sign.
To avoid crowding, students in different cycles will have a designated arrival time in the morning and an assigned playground space for their cohort at recess.
There are between 15 to 26 students in each class at Allion. A typical classroom will have desks arranged in clusters.
"It's just easier, space-wise," principal Josie D'Adamo said. "A lot of the time, teachers put kids in groups for a collaborative approach. We've just tried to distance the groups a little bit more."
Teachers are responsible for regularly scheduling times for students to wash their hands throughout the day. Only staff will be allowed to visit different classrooms.
While Grade 5 and 6 students are the only elementary school-age children required to wear a mask while circulating the halls, D'Adamo says she's encouraging all students to wear one. The school plans to send families videos explaining new protocols.
"Especially with younger kids, it's hard to understand social distancing," D'Adamo said.
"Students really get their cue from the adults so it's important that, as administrators, we remain calm and be transparent with everyone."