What you need to know about Edmonton back-to-school plans

Edmonton public and Catholic schools have released their return to school guidelines — here are the highlights.

Masks, physical distancing and cohorts are all part of the plan

Edmonton Catholic and public school divisions have unveiled their plans for students to return to schools in September amid the pandemic. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Students in K-12 will be returning to a radically different learning environment this September, one that includes measures for masks, physical distancing and cohorts.

The Edmonton Public School Board and the Edmonton Catholic School Division released their initial back-to-school guidelines on August 4. 

Both documents indicate individual schools are to build and adjust their plans as best suits their specific situation. They also note the guidelines will be updated as direction comes from the province and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. 

Here are a few highlights.


Before arriving each day, students and staff will complete a COVID-19 self-assessment.

School bus drivers will be provided with a protective zone, which may include a two-metre physical distance and non-medical mask.

Students will be assigned seats, limiting the number to a bench unless from the same household, and schools will need to develop procedures for loading, unloading and transfers that support distancing. 

For those being driven to school, parents are being asked to remain outside schools for pickup and drop-off.

Edmonton Catholic school administrators will determine entry points for students, and whether the drop-off and pickup schedule should be staggered.

Edmonton public students will be assigned a door to use for entering and exiting. On arrival, they are to go to the area outside the door, maintain two-metre distancing and wait for staff to actually bring them indoors.

Students are pictured being welcomed back to school with physical distancing protocols in place at Lynn Valley Elementary in North Vancouver, B.C., on June 1.
Students are pictured being welcomed back to school with physical distancing protocols in place in North Vancouver, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)


Heightened cleaning is being implemented in both divisions with special attention to washrooms, high-traffic areas and classrooms.

High-touch surfaces like water fountains and door handles have also been cited for frequent cleaning. Soft furnishings and rugs from classrooms and common areas will be removed if they cannot be cleaned to provincial standards.

Additional training will be given to custodial staff in both divisions.

Washing hands and/or using hand sanitizer will be required frequently for staff and students, including when entering the school or classroom and before and after eating.


Physical distancing when possible is a crucial component of both plans. The number of people allowed in common spaces will be limited, and chairs or tables may be removed to ensure those limits.

Posters and signs throughout the school will remind students of these measures.

Staggered start, end and lunch times may also come into effect as a way to keep hallways and common spaces from getting too crowded between classes.

The Catholic division will provide schools with free-standing plexiglass barriers for use in areas where physical distancing is not possible, such as in the reception or library. Edmonton public says it is looking into the efficacy of shields, saying there is some difficulty involved in cleaning and disinfecting them.

Mandatory masks coming to Alberta schools

3 years ago
Duration 2:54
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw detail Alberta's plans for school re-entry and mandatory masks.


Students in Grades 4 to 12 and school staff will be required to wear masks when physical distancing is not possible, such as in hallways, common areas and working closely with others.

Edmonton public is also mandating their use in classrooms, saying physical distancing will be challenging, while Edmonton Catholic is following the provincial guidelines. 

Masks for younger students are to be encouraged. Staff and students will be provided with two reusable masks.

If a student comes to school without a mask, they will be provided with one.


Provincial guidelines also recommend the creation of cohorts, defined as a group of students and staff who remain together. Students will remain with their cohort throughout learning and recess activities.

Seating plans are required in classrooms to aid with any potential contract tracing. Students will not be assigned lockers for the school year.

Both divisions will implement a quarterly semester system for most high schools. Edmonton public is allowing students to switch between in-person and online learning between semesters. Alternative education options will also be offered by Catholic schools.


Students and staff will need to follow provincial public health guidelines requiring self-quarantine and isolation after international travel, showing symptoms or being in close contact with a positive case.

Students with pre-existing conditions with symptoms matching those of COVID-19 will need to complete at least one test before returning to school.

If a student does test positive, authorities would be notified to take action. A positive case does not automatically mean the school would close.

Alberta Health Services may request a school close in-person classes for a public health investigation. The decision to send a cohort or class home or close a school is left to the Chief Medical Officer of Health.


Decisions on graduation 2021 have not been made in either division. ECSD notes carryover graduations from 2020 have not been confirmed or approved yet.

With files from Janet French