Back to school – what’s going on elsewhere in Canada

School Magazine  – 2020-08-14

Politicians call the confusion surrounding the  COVID-19 pandemic – “fluid”. This usually means: “we may have a clue about what’s happening now, but no idea about what’s going to happen in a few weeks or even tomorrow.”

Fluid is a pretty apt word. The report from Hospital for Sick Children, on which the Ford government based it’s back-to-school plan, says that that “children under 10 years of age are probably less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 than older children or adults,6, 16, 17, 46-48 although the significance and magnitude of that difference remains uncertain.” A couple of weeks ago Global News reported that clusters of infection were more likely to have been spawned by adults, citing a study from National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT). But, just this week an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia argues that “…children are similarly vulnerable and transmit the virus to a meaningful degree.”

Fluid. And it’s on this confusing, changing basis that Canada’s provinces and territories are trying to create plans to get student back to school without contributing to a severe second wave of the pandemic. There’s another variable to throw into the mix too: money. As you’ll see below some jurisdictions are not especially willing to back their plans with cash for school boards to put them into place.

Here is a synopsis of back-to-school plans by province and territory – leaving out Ontario.


British Columbia

Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   4 274 *

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 196

Source: BC government  August 4, 2020

BC considers it’s situation to be Stage 2 of 5 stages with remote learning being the 5th  stage and learning as usual full-time in class, the 1st stage. Stage 2 in BC means learning in groups or cohorts full-time in class.

Number of students in public schools : 546 000

Overall plan:  

Full-time instruction for all students K-12.

  • Parents whose children have medical or other risk factors should consult their health care provider
  • Self-isolation recommended for children with severe immune system concerns
  • Parents who do not want their children to attend classes at school can register them for online learning or home schooling

Self-directed learning supplements in-class instruction, if required.

Class sizes: Not specified

Grouping or cohorts: Groups may be made up of 60 students in elementary school including middle school and 120 in secondary school. They remain together primarily with their teacher and other education workers in single or multiple classes joining together for the year, quarter year or semester. During the day, students may interact with others in different groups if they can maintain physical distance.

Physical Distancing: Not specified

Spread out and stagger

  • Organize classroom for distancing
  • Staggered breaks/ recess/lunch
  • More time outside for kids
  • More individual activities

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Self-isolation and staying home if symptoms appear. Neither staff nor students may come to school if they have symptoms
  • Visitors who are in school to support safety and learning have higher priority than others
  • Cleaning/ disinfecting schools every day; cleaning/disinfecting frequently touched object like door knobs twice a day
  • Floor marking for traffic flow
  • Spread people out as much as practicable
  • Organize classroom for distancing
  • Staggered breaks/ recess/lunch
  • Take students outside more often
  • On buses, student should have their own seats when possible and if they are in middle or secondary school wear mask when this isn’t possible

Masks: This is the choice of adults or students

Provincial funding: $45.6 million for cleaning school, PPE, hand hygiene stations 


BC Teachers Federation noted concerns:

  • Lack of consultation between school districts and local unions
  • Need to test safety measures before students and teacher return to class
  • More clarity needed concerning the grouping or cohort model
  • Time in September for teachers to plan and train to prepare for new school conditions and ensure they are equitable for students
  • Smaller class sizes to maintain physical distancing



Current Covid-19 Incidence rate: 11 969

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 220

The Alberta government acknowledges that “return to in-class learning is not without risk of infection transmission. By bringing many people together in a closed setting, such as a school, we expect that cases and even outbreaks of COVID-19 will occur in some locations.”

Source: Alberta government July 2020

Number of students in public schools: 742 000

Overall plan:

Three scenarios:

  • In school classes “near normal with health measures”
  • In school classes “partially resume (with additional health measures)
  • At- home learning continues with classes suspended. Instruction for about 5-16 hours per student per week-
  • Depending on grade- focusing on literacy, numeracy, social studies, science and wellness. Secondary students focus on their course requirements.

Class Sizes: No cap on class sizes

 Grouping or cohorts: Depending on local situation students may be divided into two or more groups, in some cases, going to school on alternate days


Physical Distancing: 2m when possible

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Self-screening for all staff and students
  • Stay at home policy for all people with symptoms
  • Re-organization of rooms to allow for more space for distancing
  • Hand washing entering and exiting school, classrooms, before and after eating
  • Avoid using shared items of equipment
  • Markers to guide traffic flow in buildings
  • Discourage large gatherings


Masks: These “may be considered” where distancing cannot be maintained – not recommended for young children

Provincial funding: Alberta providing $120 million – allowed school board to use reserve funds to pay for extra costs.


  • Parents’ group, “Wall of Alberta Moms and Dads” call the plan unsafe and are organizing a writing, call-in plan to put pressure on MLAs to change it
  • It wants class sizes reduced to 15, more money to improve school safety, increased caretaking staff, PPE (see letter)

Alberta Teachers Association says plan doesn’t address distancing in overcrowded classrooms and call for a working group of parents, public health and educators to advise on basic standards for re-entry, improving ventilation and filtering, create smaller classes and increase funding for caretakers – Sources for above comments: Global News/Alberta Teachers Assn/CTV



Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   1 511

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 20

Source: Saskatchewan government  August 4, 2020

Number of students in public schools: 181 000 (2018)

Overall plan:

  • Level 1: return to school “as close to normal as possible – with health measures – planned for September 2020
  • Level 2: Using masks in school
  • Level 3: Reducing capacity of school; grouping student and “hybrid learning models”
  • Level 4: Mandatory learning at home

 Class Sizes: Reduced class sizes not part of plan

Grouping or cohorts: Not under current Level 1 plan for September 

Physical Distancing: Not specified: “minimizing contacts among students and staff as much as possible”

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Parents monitor students – keep them them home if any symptoms of illness. No direction for staff
  • Isolation areas in school for students
  • Assigned seating and extra cleaning on buses
  • Dedicated entry and exit doors in school
  • Staggered breaks, lunch times
  • Signs to control flow of students
  • “Consistent sanitation of school facilities”, high-touch surfaces
  • Limiting physical contact in classrooms; reconfiguring furniture
  • Going outside
  • Protocols for shared materials

Masks: Not mandatory

Provincial funding: Not noted in plan –  but Saskatchewan government is providing $2.3 million to purchase masks


  • Plan lacks detail
  • Parents worried about safety of schools with no reduction in class size, mask not being mandatory
  • Plan will react to changes in conditions rather than prevent problems
  • Parents have organized a petition that calls for more money, detailed protocols and protection of people in school.
  • Saskatchewan Medical Association calls for mandatory masks, better social distancing measures
  • Saskatchewan Teachers Federation wants to see mandatory masks, extra caretaking and handwashing stations – Sources for above comments – Global News/ Radio CJME/ The Star




Current Covid-19 Incidence rate: 603

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 8

Number of students in public schools: 210 000

Source: Manitoba government  July 30, 2020

Overall plan:

  • Three levels depending on public health circumstances: Level 1- in-class learning; Level 2- blended in in-class and remote learning; Level 3- learning at home – except for students in K-grade 6 whose parents are essential workers
  • Level 1 will be in force for September: K-grade 8 students return to school 5 days/week in class instruction
  • Grades 9 -12 return 5 days/week for in-class instruction if physical distancing can be maintained
  • Special needs students return to school 5 days/week in class instruction
  • Teaching to focus on core curriculum

Class Sizes: No reduced class sizes noted in plan

Grouping or cohorts: Used when physical distancing not possible- maximum size of 75 students

Physical Distancing:

  • 2 metres required “to the greatest extent possible”
  • Groups or cohorts developed when distancing is not possible

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Self-screening for all staff and students
  • Stay at home policy for all people with symptoms
  • Re-organization of rooms to allow for more space for distancing
  • Hand washing entering and exiting school, classrooms, before and after eating, sneezing etc.
  • Avoid using shared items of equipment
  • Markers to guide traffic flow in buildings
  • Staggered breaks
  • Increased cleaning – times not specified- especially of high touch surfaces
  • Teachers to move from class to class rather than students

Masks: Not required

Provincial funding: Not noted in plan. Manitoba NDP is calling for $260 million to fund teachers for 15 student per class cap, extra classroom space, PPE, transportation and mental health support.


  • Mixed – some parents just happy school is coming back Manitoba Association of Parent Councils wants to know what happens if parent choose not to send their kids to school, say plans don’t address everyone
  • Manitoba Teachers Society generally supportive but concerned about details regarding groups or cohorts, high school electives and reduced number of teacher personal days

Source for above comments– Global News




Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   60 917

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 5 715

Source: Quebec government  August 10 2020

What should be noted in this plan is the requirement of students to attend school in person, coupled with maintain regular size classes and confusion about physical distancing between 1 and 2 metres depending on who you are.

Number of students in public schools: 926 000 (2018)

Overall plan:

  • Students are required to attend schools – in person – with exception of those with a doctor’s note
  • Preschool and elementary students return to class “according to the set educator/teacher student ratios – all subjects taught
  • Secondary – in-school classes in groups with schedules adjusted to enable students to stay within their group

Class Sizes: No reduction in class sizes

Grouping or cohorts: noted, but no number specified

Physical Distancing:

  • 1 metre between groups
  • Staff to maintain 2 metre distance from students except for preschool children
  • Above applies to outdoor breaks, recesses

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Students and staff to remain home if showing symptoms; stay at home based on public health guidelines
  • Mandatory screening upon entering school not specified. It is “strongly suggested” that child showing symptoms be tested
  • Contacts of student with symptoms: parents to be notified – children may need to self-isolate
  • Modified access to common areas
  • Hand washing entering and exiting school, classrooms, before and after eating
  • Markers to guide traffic flow in buildings
  • Cleaning and disinfection of schools
  • Staff moving between classes to teacher different subjects


  • Not mandatory for pre-school to grade 4
  • Mandatory for students grades 4-6 and secondary school in common areas and on buses
  • Not mandatory for staff in classrooms, must be worn if moving around the school

Provincial funding: Not specified


  • This plan replaces one that was considered out of date and vague
  • Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE-CSQ) says it’s more coherent than the last one; other teacher and parents groups say the new plan doesn’t dispel confusion over what is to happen in school to avoid transmission
  • Sylvain Mallette, head of Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (45 000 teachers) said his unions advocated for a progressive return to school and calls full attendance a “political choice”
  • Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Earl Rubin told CBC that class sizes of 30 raises the question of how to keep students far enough away from each other to avoid transmission

– Sources for above comments: Montreal Gazette/ Global News



New Brunswick


Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   180

Number of deaths from Covid-19:  2

Source: New Brunswick government June 12, 2020

This another province with mandatory attendance in September – but no clear plan yet on how to deal with contingencies like illness and even basic protocols like masks and cleaning.

Number of students in public schools:  98 000

Overall plan:

  • Students must attend school
  • K- grade 2 – In school full time with reduced group sizes as close to 15 as possible
  • Grades 3-5 – In school full time reduced groups sizes -not specified.
  • Grades 6-8 – In school full time with regular class sizes
  • Grades 9- 12 – Attend school minimum every other day – reduced class sizes – not specified. When not at school students will do guided projects or online learning.

Class Sizes: 15 if possible in K- gr 2; reduced sizes  – not specified for other grades except grades 6-8 with regular class sizes

Grouping or cohorts: Small groups – not specified- “must distance from other groups “

Physical Distancing: 1 metre for secondary student; 2 metres for all others outside classroom

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Re-organization of rooms to allow for more space for distancing
  • School districts to plan for movement around schools, pick up and drop off times and health and safety protocols
  • No plans yet for screening, what to do about students/staff showing symptoms, transportation, cleaning

Masks: Not noted in plan

Provincial funding:

  • $20 million for caretaking staff and supplies; $13 million for technology.
  • More teachers to be hired – not specified; cost not released.


  • New Brunswick Teachers Association questions how groups or “bubbles” will be made safe
  • Parents want to know what happens if students get ill at school

-Sources for above comments: CBC/Global News



Nova Scotia


Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   1 071

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 64

Source: Nova Scotia government  July 2020

Number of students in public schools: 123 000

Overall plan:

  • Full opening for all students– plan for September
  • Partial response – pre-school to grade 8 attend school; secondary students have some in-school time, but mostly have learning at home – with chance to book time with teachers and support staff.
  • At home learning – teacher to connect with students online, provide real time, video and self-directed instruction

Class Sizes:

  • Pre-primary- up to 24 children and 3 staff
  • Primary to grade 12 – not specified

Grouping or cohorts:

  • Pre-primary – classes remain together
  • Primary – 12 – in groups – size not specified

Physical Distancing: Students and staff “encouraged” to maintain distance of at least 2 metres

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • No sharing of food
  • Lunch within students’ own groups
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Extra cleaning especially for toys, equipment other shared items and high touch surfaces
  • Hand washing entering and exiting school, classrooms, before and after eating
  • Signs to control flow of students
  • Re-organization of rooms to allow for more space for distancing
  • Buses cleaned twice a day; students/ drivers to wear masks
  • No plans noted for screening, contingencies like appearance of symptoms, breakout of illness etc though this plan does reference a public health guidance on monitoring students and staff for symptoms and isolating symptomatic people, managing outbreaks


  • Not generally required
  • To be worn by students in primary – grade 12 when in large groups or outside classroom

Provincial funding:

  • $4 million so far on technology
  • No other funding specified


  • Nova Scotia Teachers Union has concern about how to keep secondary students from intermingling and calls for clarity on what would lead to scaling back in-school learning
  • Opposition leaders calling for more details
  • Parents and teacher held a rally on August 10 saying that most classrooms have up to 30 students and not enough room to accommodate them with distancing, called for more use masks as well as improvements to school ventilation –

-Source for above comments: CBC


Prince Edward Island


Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   41

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 0

Source: Government of Prince Edward Island

Number of students in public schools: 19 000

Overall plan: Not specified beyond measures taken to control spread

  • NB: Breakfast programs to continue
  • Curriculum revised to address learning gaps dues to school closures

Class Sizes: No reductions noted in plan

Grouping or cohorts: Small groups or cohorts to remain together – number not specified – as much as possible in school zones

Physical Distancing:  2 metres is not possible once schools are open; maintaining separate groups or cohorts are meant to deal with this problem

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Schools have thermometers to take temperatures
  • Prescreeening of staff/ students
  • Staff/students put on mask if symptoms appear during day, go home – classroom is cleaned
  • Attendance taken within 10 minutes of arrival to help with contact tracing
  • Frequent handwashing; hand sanitizer stations throughout schools
  • Staggered arrivals and departures
  • Frequent cleaning and disinfection for high-touch surfaces and common areas in schools; classrooms cleaned at end of day
  • Individual desks and chairs for student when possible; classrooms set up for greatest distance between students
  • Reroute buses to minimize number of riders; enhanced cleaning of buses; masks use if distancing is not possible students to wash hands after exiting them

Masks: Recommended for students and staff

Provincial funding:  No details specified


  • Green Party education critic Karla Bernard says that schools need more staff to monitor visitors and students exiting buses, asks how teachers will get breaks and thinks bus drivers need more support to take attendance and supervise students
  • Aldene Smallman, head of P.E.I. Teachers Federation is concerned about availability of substitute teachers and clarification of plans like use of masks and distancing. She wants to see class size caps in place.
  • Heather Mullen of P.E.I Home and School Federation says she is happy with details of plan so far

-Source for above comments – CBC



Newfoundland and Labrador


Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   268

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 3

Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador July 2020

Number of students in public schools: 64 000

Overall plan:

  • Scenario 1: Classes in school with health adpatations for times when soread of COVID-19 is very low. At home learning for students who are sick or in isolation.
  • Scenario 2: Classes in school partly resume with priority for in-class instruction given to all K- grade 6 student, especially if their parents are essential workers and those with special needs. Minimum 30-50 percent in-class instruction.
  • Scenario 3: Classes in school suspended; student instructed at home – with 5-8 hours instruction provided by teachers, per week – not specified how this will take place. Teachers may be required to be at their schools unless they have been closed by public health
  • Under scenarios 1 and 2, provincial exams as well as reading and math assessments for 2020-21 will continue to be mandatory

Class Sizes: No change: “…the daily school routine should not be disrupted to accommodate smaller classes for physical distancing”

Grouping or cohorts: Cohorts of classes when possible but not done in a “manner that compromise daily attendance or alters the curriculum options for students.”

Physical Distancing: 2 metres when possible

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Self-screening for all staff and students
  • Stay at home policy for all people with symptoms
  • Re-organization of rooms to allow for more space for distancing
  • Hand washing entering and exiting school, classrooms, before and after eating
  • Markers to control flow of students
  • Students from same families sit together on buses; maintain distancing; extra supplies to sanitize buses
  • Checking schools systems – e.g. ventilation systems,; increased frequency of cleaning high-touch surfaces
  • Staggered class time to avoid crowed hallways

Masks: Students may wear masks but they aren’t recommended.

Provincial funding: $20 million for laptops and tablets for staff and students


  • Opposition Conservative critic, Craig Pardy says money is short on areas like distancing, school operations and cleaning
  • NDP critic, Jim Dinn says plan puts too much responsibility on local school districts
  • Newfoundland Teachers Association head, Dean Ingram is calling for lower class sizes and more resources

Source for above comments: CBC



Northwest Territories


Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   5

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 0

Number of students in public schools: 8 600 (2018-19)

Source: Government of the Northwest Territories  July 3, 2020

Overall plan:

  • School plans will depend on size, layout, access to technology and individual students needs e.g. high risk or complex needs students
  • In-person: full-time learning in school when possible – priority for September
  • Blended learning: using staggered schedules or part-time attendance cobined with online or paper assignments to do at home
  • Distance learning: for student with health issues or age 19 and older; consists of online learning, phone/email check-ins, paper assignments mailed to students
  • Remote learning with routine contact from counsellors, teachers and mental health workers. Emphasis on mental health stressed
  • Food programs to continue
  • Dene Kede, Inuuqatigiit and Our Languages curricula will continue to be taught, whether through distance, blended and in-person learning scenarios.

Class Sizes: Not specified

Grouping or cohorts: Not specified

Physical Distancing:

  • K- grade 6: not inside classroom bubble; outside it is 1- 2 metres
  • Grades 7-12: 1 metre; 2 metres between staff and students

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Self-screening for all staff and students
  • Stay at home policy for all people with symptoms
  • Handwashing protocols; sanitation stations in schools
  • Frequent disinfection of school areas and high-touch surfaces
  • Use of plexiglass barriers
  • Designated entrances/exits; signs to control flow of students
  • Staggered times for drop-off/pick-up, lunch, recess
  • Student 19 and over not allowed in school building – must do remote learning

Masks: When distancing cannot be maintained; face shields for staff

Government funding: No additional funding; local plans to be covered under existing budgets





Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   15

Number of deaths from Covid-19: 0

Number of students in public schools: 5 500

Source: Yukon government  July 2020

Overall plan:

  • Rural: students K- grade 12 return to class full-time
  • Whitehorse: students K– grade 9 return to class full-time; grades 10-12 half-day at-home learning/ half-day in-school five days per week
  • Even in school, students from grades 4 – 12 will get blended learning involving different amounts of direct teacher instruction combined with group assignments, videos, online learning etc.
  • Priorities include support for children of essential service workers and students who need special assistance

Class Sizes: No limit specified

Grouping or cohorts: Smaller groups

Physical Distancing: Distance not specified but emphasized. Not always possible to do this, so plan calls for increased handwashing, cleaning and staying at home when ill

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Self-screening for all staff and students
  • Stay at home policy for all people with symptoms
  • Staff and students with symptoms will be isolated and sent home
  • Handwashing protocols
  • Frequent disinfection of school areas and high-touch surfaces
  • Some students in Whitehorse will be moved to another location to ensure safe distancing in classrooms
  • Buses: 2 students per seat, unless from same household; sanitizing buses after each trips, loading buses from back to front and reversing for offloading
  • Not all students eligible for transportation, but Yukon may accommodate students prioritizing by age grou

Masks: Not required

Government funding: Not noted


  • Parents worry about increased costs of internet use if students have to learn from home. Costs reported as high as $600 – $700 per month
  • Recent survey by Yukon government noted almost 30 percent of respondents couldn’t follow video lessons because of problems with internet
  • Social, academic and emotional concerns expressed about part-time secondary classes, as well as widening the gap between those who can afford tutors and those who can’t

-Source for above comments – CBC




Current Covid-19 Incidence rate:   – from Government of Canada -Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update

Number of students in public schools: 10 000 (2018)

This is another jurisdiction in which students must atend school in person.

Source: Government of Nunavut July 2020

Overall plan:

  • Stage 1: least restrictive condition, no cases of COVID-19 – all instruction takes place in school
  • Stage 2: Escalated risk of transmission. One or more potential exposures to COVID-19 – elementary school continue with instruction in school; middle and secondary students attend school 2-3 days per week with staggered schedules – communicate with staff on other days
  • Stage 3: Community is in recovery from one or more COVID-19 cases – elementary students attend school 3 days per week; middle and secondary students – 2 days per week with strict distancing
  • Stage 4: Active COVID-19 cases in community- schools closed to staff and students; all instruction done remotely
  • Students must attend school

Class Sizes: Not noted

Grouping or cohorts: Schools organized by groups or cohorts of students who remain together

Physical Distancing: No distance specified, but contact should be avoided generally and must be avoided at Stage 2 and 3

Health and Safety Measures include:

  • Stay at home policy for all people with symptoms – 14 days
  • Enhanced cleaning
  • Contact tracing
  • Gathering in groups restricted to cohorts
  • Staggered school schedules
  • Staggered bus times

Masks: Not recommended in general, but students over 13 may have to wear them on buses

Provincial funding: Not noted in plan, but no extra funding provided for cleaning and supplies funding


  • Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities says local districts should adopt the plan but worries how to comply with extra cleaning with no extra money provided
  • Also worries about how to communicate with parents re different stages of response

-Source for above comments – CBC


*Note: COVID-19 incidence rates are from Centre for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University