2021-08-30T13:34:33-04:00Aug 27, 2021|

Back to school during COVID-19: What to expect

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has altered our way of life. Over the last year, following public health and social distancing protocols has become the norm. However, with increased vaccination and reduced case loads, a return to normal is on the horizon.

Schools in Canada are no different. With the start of a new academic year, schools are making changes to public health measures to reflect the easing of provincial restrictions, with a bit of caution. In this article, we will provide insights into measures outlined by each Canadian province so that if you’re coming to Canada with kids this year, you know what to expect and can learn how to prepare your kids to return to the classroom

Please note that the information provided in this article is accurate at the time of publishing, and parents are encouraged to check their children’s school for the most up-to-date and accurate information for their own situations. The article provides a synopsis of the common protocols at the provincial level; individual school districts may have some more guidelines and/or restrictions. 

Not familiar with the schooling system in Canada?
See the Newcomer guide to schooling in Canada to understand the basics. 

What to expect as schools reopen across Canada: A province-by-province update

[Updated as of August 27, 2021]


  • School start date: September 1, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Schools in Alberta will reopen fully, with in-school learning for the majority of students. However, contingency measures have been designed in case COVID-19 cases increase. In such cases, the school board may adjust the school calendars while meeting required instructional hours, or shift all or some grades to at-home/online learning models for a short period.
  • Masks: Masks are recommended for students in Grades 4–12 in areas where physical distancing can’t be maintained. However, in some school board districts, masks may be compulsory. For students in kindergarten to Grade 3, masks will be optional.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Emphasis on enhanced cleaning, reorganizing classrooms to allow for social distancing, hand hygiene, and access to hand sanitizer.
    • Fixed seats in school buses.

British Columbia

  • School start date: September 10, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Full return to in-class instruction and innovative approaches to learning. Classes will be offered in-person, at school, with options for online, distributed learning and homeschooling.
  • Masks: Mandatory for students in Grade 4-12 and optional for children in kindergarten to Grade 3. Every student will be given two masks upon returning to school. Masks will be required in all indoor areas, including in class and in school buses.
  • Other COVID-19 measures: 
    • To limit contact, students will be divided into “learning groups” of up to 60 including students, teachers, and educational assistants.
    • Enhanced health and safety measures, including daily health check for students and staff.
    • Emphasis on regular hand washing, proper ventilation in classrooms, hygiene and disinfecting protocols, and social distancing.
    • Note: Health authorities can introduce additional regional measures for schools or school districts in areas where COVID-19 cases increase.


  • School start date: September 7, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Schools to reopen for full-time in-class learning.
  • Masks: Mandatory for all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 while indoors and in school buses. Masks can be removed outside and mask breaks can be taken where social distancing is possible.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Schools will manage flow of people in common areas.
    • Staff and students will be required to self-screen for symptoms, practice hand hygiene, and stay at home when sick. Immunization and testing requirements for teachers and staff have also been added.
    • Students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 (not yet eligible for vaccination) will be placed to cohorts to reduce risk of exposure.
    • Assigned seating in school buses, emphasis on cleaning, disinfecting, and proper ventilation.
    • Note: As part of the pandemic response system, a school-wide shift to remote learning will only be used as a last-resort measure.

New Brunswick

  • School start date: September 8, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Return to normal with full-time, in-class learning, including extracurricular activities.
  • Class size: 
    • Kindergarten to Grade 8 will return to regular class sizes, without any classroom bubbles. In-person assemblies will be discontinued.
    • High school students will return to full-time in-class learning. While there are no restrictions on class sizes, assembly sizes will be limited.
  • Masks: For students from Kindergarten to Grade 8, masks will be encouraged in indoor common areas. Older students will be required to wear masks outside the classroom and during assemblies. Students of all ages must wear masks while on the school bus.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • School staff to undergo regular testing and vaccinations. Vaccinations strongly encouraged for students 12 or older.
    • In case of an outbreak, students and staff may be required to wear masks throughout the day. Students in kindergarten to Grade 8 will be required to leave a spare, clean mask at school.
    • Students will be required to disinfect their own desks.
    • School buses will return to normal capacity, but will be disinfected daily. Fixed seating will be encouraged in buses.
    • If a COVID-19 case is confirmed in a school, the school will close for one day to allow time for contact tracing and testing. In case of a shutdown, students will shift to online learning.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • School start date: September 8, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Students will return to school full-time. Two plans have been created based on community transmission risk scenarios:
    • Plan 1 (in case of low or no sustained community transmission):
      • Masks: Wearing masks is optional. 
      • Social distancing and cohorts no longer required, although schools will avoid crowding in common spaces
      • School buses to return to normal capacity, with no mandatory mask requirement.
      • Other COVID-19 measures: Emphasis on hand hygiene, daily screening, cleaning and ventilation of classrooms.
    • Plan 2 (in case of high COVID-19 risk due to increased community transmission):
      • Masks: Non-medical masks may be recommended.
      • Physical distancing may be recommended, depending on vaccination status.
      • School buses may have reduced capacity and mask requirement.
      • Other COVID-19 measures: Emphasis on hand hygiene, daily screening, cleaning and ventilation of classrooms. Alternate education plans, such as online learning may be recommended. Other measures may be implemented as required by the public health department.

Northwest Territories

  • School start date: Between August 30 to September 7, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Return to school with in-person instruction.
  • Masks: Students will be required to wear masks on buses and in all school settings.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Students and staff will require to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms on a daily basis. 
    • Physical distancing will be required for students in kindergarten to Grade 6 but not for older students.
    • Classroom bubbles are recommended, but not mandatory.
    • Emphasis on enhanced hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection.
    • Indoor extracurricular activities and assemblies are on hold.
  • Plan of action in case of a COVID-19 outbreak at school: Dedicated space and protocol to be in place in case a student exhibits symptoms.

Nova Scotia

  • School start date: September 7, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Return to full-time, in-person learning.
  • Masks: All students will be required to wear a mask in school spaces and buses where social distancing is not possible. However, the mask policy may be eased as the province enters the next stage of reopening.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Province will provide students with two free non-medical masks if needed.
    • Measures may include staying home if unwell, regular cleaning of high touch surfaces, frequent hand hygiene, and attention to ventilation.
  • Plan of action in case of further outbreaks: Schools may transition to a mixed online and in-person model, or a fully virtual learning model for older students. Classes may be reduced.


  • School start date: Between August 16 to September 7, 2021.
  • Masks: School children older than five years of age should wear a mask in school and buses (with some exceptions, such as during physical activities)
  • Schooling plan: 100 per cent in-class learning for all students.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Isolation room for students who start exhibiting symptoms and illness response kits in schools.
    • Screening toolkit for staff and teachers.
    • Enhanced hygiene measures.
  • Plan of action in case of further outbreaks: Schools might be required to transition to remote instruction. In the event of a positive case in school, others at higher risk will be identified and public health instructions will be provided.


  • School start date: September 8 to 10, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Elementary and secondary students will return to in-person class five days a week. Online learning is optional and available for those who want to opt for it. 
  • Masks: 
    • Mandatory for students from Grade 1–12, must be worn in hallways, classrooms, and school vehicles. Masks optional, but recommended, for kindergarten students.
    • Masks may be temporarily removed when taking part in physical activities or when consuming food and drink. Not required outdoors.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Students in kindergarten to Grade 8 will remain in a cohort with a one teacher each day. However, students from different cohorts can interact with physical distancing and masks.
    • For secondary school students, academic timetables will be limited to two courses at a time for the fall semester, with exceptions for smaller schools. Classes will be limited to five instructional hours per day.
    • Staff and students will be asked to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms each day and will need to get tested in case of symptoms.
    • Emphasis on hand hygiene, social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and more frequent cleaning.
    • Note: Schools must be prepared for potential closures and should be able to switch to virtual classes if COVID-19 cases in the province increase.

Prince Edward Island

  • School start date: September 7, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: “Near normal” return to in-class learning.
  • Masks: Students are not required to wear masks to school, but masks are “strongly recommended” in indoor settings outside of the classroom (including school buses, school buildings) and for staff in classrooms from kindergarten to Grade 6.
  • Other measures:
    • Cohorts and physical distancing is not required, but distancing is encouraged in indoor common spaces outside the classroom.
    • Sports activities and school gatherings must adhere to public health measures including restrictions on number of people.
    • Emphasis on hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, and proper ventilation.
    • Note: Requirements for masks, physical distancing, and cohorts might change in case there is an increase in COVID-19 cases in the province.


  • School start date: August 31, 2021 (some classes in Montreal) and August 20, 2021 (most of Quebec).
  • Masks: Mandatory for all students in elementary and secondary school, including in classrooms, common areas, school buses, and daycare. Preschoolers are not required to wear a mask.
  • Schooling plan: All students will return to in-person classes on a full-time basis. Exemptions may be made for students with increased risk of COVID-related complications.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • In elementary schools, extracurricular activities and sports will continue, but students may temporarily be required to stop participating in case they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
    • Secondary school students will require a vaccine passport to participate in extracurricular activities and sports.
    • Other health measures will include cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and evaluation of children with symptoms.
    • Assigned seating in school buses to facilitate contact tracing in event of an outbreak.


  • School start date: September 1, 2021.
  • Schooling plan: Return to in-class learning.
  • Masks: No longer mandatory, but encouraged. 
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • No mask or physical distancing requirements.
    • Rapid testing available to staff and students.
    • Emphasis on frequent hand washing, cleaning, and contact tracing, if needed.
    • Note: Additional restrictions may be added if recommended by public health authorities.


  • School start date: August 18 to September 1, 2021.
  • Schooling plans: Return to in-person full-time learning.
  • Masks: All students 5 years and older (K-12) and staff must wear masks in all indoor school settings outside of the classroom, including hallways and buses. Masks are not required inside classrooms.
  • Other COVID-19 measures:
    • Physical distancing is no longer mandatory. Eligible students and staff are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.
    • Emphasis on daily self-screening, hand and respiratory hygiene.
  • Plan of action in case of a COVID-19 outbreak at school: Designated area to isolate students with symptoms. Affected students (if over five years of age) must wear masks in isolation.

Official websites for provincial and territorial school reopening, closures and back to school plans

As a parent, you may have many apprehensions and sending your child to school during a pandemic may seem scary. Being aware of the rules and precautions outlined for schools in your province and city will help calm your nerves and ensure the safety of your child and others in school. 

[Sources: CTV News, The Globe and Mail, Global News]