As restaurants, storefronts and other public places slowly begin to reopen across Canada after coronavirus-related closures, questions remain about what measures may be in place when students and teachers return to school in the fall.
It’s likely that physical distancing and robust hand hygiene will be top priorities for most regions, but experts worry about the effectiveness of physical distancing measures for children.
“Kids want to hug, they want to be close,” Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, previously told Global News.
“I have two young kids. You can explain to them what’s going on and they can understand it, but it’s the kind of self-restraint it takes. It’s different from telling kids to stay away from strangers on the street. This is their buddies on the playground, the close play, close contact… Their hands get into everything.”
The province of Quebec tried to reopen schools and daycares regionally in May, but classrooms looked anything but normal.
Arrows were pasted on the ground, spaced two metres apart, to direct movement in hallways. When a bell sounded, students were required to wash their hands — and it rang often. Strict social-distancing measures were in effect, meaning only a maximum of 15 students were allowed per class.
The plan included rigorous disinfecting and cleaning measures, and libraries and gyms were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Some experts, like Kristina Llewellyn, a social development studies professor at the University of Waterloo, worry about how this may affect learning and development.
“For a long time, we’ve told kids that learning is based on tapping into their social and emotional selves. We’ve spent a lot of time enhancing that, and now all of a sudden we’re saying, ‘Don’t tap into that, don’t be social beings,’” she previously told Global News.
“I worry, especially for the young grades, whether that could do more long-term harm on learning and the kind of relationships they can develop within a school environment.”
What will September bring? Below, a list of the proposed plans to reopen schools in each province and territory.
Since June 1, when British Columbia entered Phase 3 of its reopening plan, students in the province have had the option to return to school on a part-time basis.
For the last month, each age group was given a set number of days they could attend school. Kindergarten to Grade 5 were allowed two to three days a week, and grades 6 to 12 were allowed one day per week.
For the kids who did attend school, strict health and safety measures were in place — and they are likely to remain come September. Among them were the following:
- Staff and students (or their parents/guardians) must assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19
- Desks spaced apart
- Avoiding groups or gatherings of students in hallways, other common areas
- Regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces like doorknobs, toilet seats, keyboards and desks at least once a day
- Hand-sanitizing and cleaning stations available throughout the school
- Staggered drop-off periods, lunches and recess breaks, with increased time outdoors
- One student per seat on school buses, unless children are from the same household
The province hopes to be back at 100 per cent capacity in all schools by September.
The province of Alberta has said that it will announce the re-entry date for students by Aug. 1.
The government also released a series of school re-entry plans so students and teachers could familiarize themselves with the new rules prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
The plans are devised for varying levels of community transmission and they’re broken into re-entry scenario 1, re-entry scenario 2 and re-entry scenario 3.
In all scenarios, cleaning and disinfecting practices will be “enhanced,” according to the plan.
All areas of the school will be cleaned daily, washrooms and high-touch surfaces will be cleaned multiple times a day and a deep cleaning schedule will be maintained when students are not present.
Rooms will be “reorganized” to allow for more physical space between students, and foot traffic will be guided through entrances and hallways using markers.
Staff and students will also be routinely screened for symptoms.
The Saskatchewan government is determined to begin the school year as early as Sept. 1, based on local school division calendars.
To that end, it released school reopening plans with strict hygiene, cleaning and physical distancing measures, in mid-June.
The following rules are among the recommendations:
- Staff, parents and students must encourage and practice preventative measures, like limiting physical contact, throughout the school day
- Schools must modify procedures like entering the building to encourage physical distancing (i.e. staggered entry into classes and schools)
- Limit shared materials and equipment, like toys, food, drinks and school supplies
- Schools should consider modifying rooms to promote physical distancing, and installing physical barriers where that’s not possible
The Manitoba government unveiled three potential plans on Thursday to bring students back to school this fall.
Students and parents can expect less busing, fewer assemblies and more changes when school returns on Sept. 8.
If COVID-19 numbers remain low, students will see a near-normal return to school, subject to physical distancing requirements and limitations on gatherings, busing and other items.
If the pandemic becomes severe, the school system will rely on online learning and classrooms will be shut except for small-group tutoring and assessments.
The middle-case scenario would see students kept in cohorts with a small number of classmates who would likely stay together throughout the day. Kids in elementary and middle school would continue to go to class five days a week, while high school students could be cut back to two days in class and three days online.
The reopening plans are to be submitted to Manitoba Education, which will provide final confirmation by Aug. 1 based on public health directions.
The Ontario government hopes to have students back in class in September, according to its reopening plan.
However, as of right now, return to school in the fall will be voluntary based on parent choice. For parents who choose not to send their child back, school boards should be prepared to offer “remote education,” according to the plan.
The province has asked individual school boards to create three plans for reopening: one for a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols, one for a modified school day routine and one for at-home learning.
The chosen plan will be announced by your child’s school board in early August, with guidance from local public health officials.
However, parents should anticipate smaller class sizes, students at home for some days of the week, signage within the school to mark physical distancing measures, fewer personal belongings allowed at school and limited usage of shared spaces, like cafeterias, gyms and libraries.
The most current plan can be found here.
Schools are set to reopen in the province of Quebec come September, and student attendance will be compulsory with the exception of those with special medical conditions.
Students in preschools, elementary schools and high schools up to Grade 9 will attend class full time, according to Quebec education minister Jean-François Roberge.
Students from preschool through Grade 9 will be divided into subgroups of six or fewer where physical distancing won’t be required. However, they will be asked to stay two metres away from teachers and one metre from other students.
High schoolers in their two final years will have flexibility to alternate between learning at home and in the classroom.
CEGEPs and universities will be permitted to reopen with a hybrid option of online and in-class learning with 1.5-metre physical-distancing rules in place in lecture halls.
An emergency protocol will also be put in place in the event of a second wave of the virus to ensure schooling continues online even if schools are again forced to close.
On June 12, New Brunswick education minister Dominic Cardy provided details on the new approach to reopening schools in the region come the fall.
Students from kindergarten up to Grade 8 will attend school full time, and attendance is mandatory.
They will be in groups throughout the day, and those groups will start at staggered intervals, eat lunch together and enter schools through specific entrances.
Students in kindergarten to Grade 2 will be in groups of 15. Groupings for each grade will remain as close to 15 as possible until grades 6 to 8, which will have groups that match up with regular class sizes.
Grades 9 to 12 will not be grouped as a result of different class schedules and will be expected to attend school at a minimum of every other day.
When in school, high school students will follow physical-distancing rules.
High school students who are not physically in school will be engaged through guided projects and online learning.
Principals will develop plans that fit best with their individual schools, Cardy said, and those plans may include where and when students receive temperature checks.
Nova Scotia has not yet announced any plans for reopening schools in the fall.
Elementary and high schools in the region have been closed to students since mid-March and formal schooling for the 2019-2020 school year ended on June 5.
Prince Edward Island
The province of P.E.I. plans to reopen schools in September, and the chief public health officer says it will have guidelines soon to ensure precautions are in place for students and administration.
The guidelines will vary from school to school and they will also include contingency plans in case a second wave of COVID-19 hits.
The province’s education minister Brad Trivers said the ministry hopes to have the guidelines publicly released by the end of June.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador does not yet have a plan in place for reopening schools in September.
The Board of Trustees of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District discussed plans during a virtual meeting on June 12.
“Obviously our goal is to have all K-12 students back in classrooms, engaged in face-to-face learning with their teachers,” said Goronwy Price, chair of the Board of Trustees.
“That is what we all want, but we cannot predict with certainty how the COVID-19 health emergency will evolve over the next couple of months, and what direction we will be provided from public health and other government authorities with respect to protocols in classrooms, on school buses, and within the school environment in general.”
Changes currently being considered include a blended model of in-class and online learning and alternative locations used for educational instruction.
The government of Yukon plants to reopen schools in August, and students are expected to return to classrooms full-time unless they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Per the territory’s reopening plan, “school will not be business as usual during the pandemic.” Each individual school will be required to make its own reopening plan, with guidance from public health, which meets its individual needs.
These will be shared with families in early August, prior to the first day of school.
Among the expected changes are the following:
- Modified busing, pickup and drop-off schedules
- Schools will be cleaned more often
- No physical contact or sharing of personal items
- Class sizes may be smaller to meet space restrictions
Northwest Territories education leaders provided an update about school reopening plans on June 17 via teleconference.
Individual schools have submitted plans for approval, and are striving to have students receive “as much in-person, curriculum-based instructional time” as possible in classrooms.
Details of reopening plans will vary for each school and grade level, and will be shared with students, staff, parents and guardians once they are approved by the office of the chief public health officer.
Nunavut has not yet released specifics about school openings.
Details are expected to be released shortly as part of the territory’s larger plan to reopen the territory, dubbed “Nunavut’s Path.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore, Alexander Quon, Shane Gibson & Brittany Henriques