Calgary Catholic schools prepare classrooms for in-person, socially distanced learning

The Calgary Catholic School District is making changes to the layouts of some of its schools and classrooms in anticipation of welcoming kids back this fall — all while maintaining physical distancing and following public health recommendations. 

St. Joseph, St. Marguerite and Bishop O'Byrne staged to reflect the 'new normal'

The Calgary Catholic School District is taking a number of measures to ensure the health and safety of its students, including dividing classes into cohorts. (Calgary Catholic School District)

Fewer students, more hand sanitizer and less sharing.

Classrooms in the Calgary Catholic School District will likely look a little different for students when they return this fall. 

The school district is making changes to the layouts of some of its schools and classrooms in anticipation of welcoming kids back this fall — all while maintaining physical distancing and following public health recommendations. 

Chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas said that since the pandemic began a committee has been working on the district's response to COVID-19 and creating a "re-entry handbook." 

Using the information from the handbook, the school district set up three schools —St. Joseph, Bishop O'Byrne and St. Marguerite — to illustrate what schools and classrooms will look like if COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations remain in place. 

"So those schools are set up with all of their personal protective equipment. We have designated which desks children would fit in to maintain that social distancing. We have put hand sanitization stations at entries, and we have the visual cues on the floor," he said. 

Over the past few weeks, principals from all district schools have had a chance to visit these exemplary sites, Szumlas said.

"To engage in conversation so that they, in turn, can go back to their schools and replicate some of the safety measures that are required to keep the students and staff safe when school resumes," he said. 

Classes split into cohorts

Principal Paula Robinson's school, St. Joseph Elementary Junior High School, is set up for school in the age of physical distancing. 

She said one of the major things that will be different for students is that they will likely be divided into cohorts.

St. Joseph principal Paula Robinson is pictured here with a water fountain that has been tapped off to prevent being used by students. (Calgary Catholic School District)

"The first thing these little people are gonna see is that half the kids in their grade level are not at school on the same day as they are," she said. 

"Classes are going to have less students in them, and there's going to be desks that are empty or tables that are no longer pushed together but pulled apart."

Szumlas said all schools will also have a "provincial checklist of health" posted outside, and every student will be required to go through it each day before entering the buildings.

"If they have any symptoms related to COVID-19, then they are to stay home and not come to school — that's hugely important," he said. 

Robinson said students will likely also experience a change in the routines and structures they're used to. 

"At St. Joseph's, they're used to playing on the playground and running, and when the bell rings, they come into the school. Now it's going to look a little different," she said.

Teachers will instead greet their students, lined up, outside the building, hand sanitizer at the ready for each student to use before entering the school.

"The Grade 1s will come in and the other classes will wait outside for a few more minutes to ensure that they've made it all into their classroom and the hallways are free again," said Robinson. "And then the second class will come in. So a little bit of staggered entry and staggered exit."

Robinson said students will then be asked to stay in their classrooms all day.

"Probably just leaving to go to the bathroom," she said. 

Hand sanitizer stations will be set up at the entrances of all classrooms, like this one at St. Marguerite. (Calgary Catholic School District)

Lockers and personal belongings

Szumlas said students will not be using cubbies, lockers or hooks to the same capacity as they're used to in order to store their things. 

"So that they're not coming in contact with each other, lockers will need to be spaced off," he said. "There will be one locker and then several will be locked off."

He said students will be encouraged to keep all their personal belongings with them.

"Including their lunch, all the things that they eat, and all that all the garbage that comes with their lunch they'll be expected to pack that up and take it home with them."

Robinson said the "new normal" will be an adjustment for kids, so the first few weeks will be focused on educating students about expectations.

 "So lessons about handwashing and having teachers instil in kids that that we're going to keep them safe, No. 1," she said. "And that everything from an arrow on the floor, to hand sanitizers, or water fountains being closed, is for their own safety. We'll create a new normal for them."

Szumlas said that while all staff will be encouraged to wear personal protective equipment, including masks or face shields, he said students wearing masks is not mandatory. 

"Some parents may want children to wear masks, others may not. So this is a personal choice from families."


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018, she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at