OTTAWA -- For parents who choose to send their children back to school, the experience will be much different.

School boards across the city are releasing their back-to-school plans, with details on which kids will be in classrooms and when.

Here is a look at some of the safety plans the boards say will be in place at the start of the school year.


The OCDSB has identified five key areas: physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, use of masks, and enhanced cleaning.

Physical Distancing

  • Students and staff will be asked to keep an appropriate distance between each other as much as possible;
  • Directional arrows and posters will be placed in hallways, stairways, and common areas;
  • Some hallways and stairways may be unidirectional, depending on how much space is available; and
  • Floor markings to encourage distancing will be in place in any areas where lines are expected to form.
  • The OCDSB says there will be occasional breaches of physical distancing measures. "A friendly reminder should be provided when someone is failing to keep the required distance."
  • Entry and dismissal times may be staggered to avoid large grouping and schools are encouraged to eliminate bells.

Hand Hygiene

  • Students and staff will be asked to wash their hands upon entering the school, upon entering their classroom, before and after eating, when returning from outside, before and after using the washroom, and before leaving for the end of the day;
  • Hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout each school;
  • Classrooms with running water will have soap and paper towels; and
  • Anyone with visibly soiled hands will be required to wash with soap and water

Respiratory Etiquette

  • Posters will remind students to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or their sleeve and to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth; and
  • Boxes of tissues will be available for students and staff

Use of Masks

  • Masks are mandatory for all students in grades 4 through 12. Masks are recommended for students in kindergarten to Grade 3;
  • Reusable cloth masks will be provided by the district for students in grades 4-12. Students can bring their own masks if they wish;
  • Students will be instructed on how to properly don, doff, and wear their mask;
  • Exemptions for medical or other reasons will be made at the discretion of the principal;
  • Schools will be provided with disposable masks for children who forget their mask when arriving at school.
  • Staff will be provided with medical grade PPE, which must be worn at all times while at work;
  • Staff who work directly with students will also be given face shields for use while working in close proximity with students; and
  • Staff who may come into contact with bodily fluids will be given additional PPE such as gowns and gloves, as required.

Enhanced Cleaning

  • Special attention will focus on high-touch areas such as door handles, railings, faucets and washrooms;
  • Special attention will also be focused on classrooms and the designated isolation room to be used should a student become ill;
  • Garbage will be disposed of each day. All students and staff are asked to bring their waste from lunches home at the end of the day.

Other measures

  • Students must be screened by their parents for COVID-19 symptoms or other illnesses using a checklist before going to school. Any child who is ill must stay home. Staff members will self-assess and must also stay home if they do not pass the daily survey or feel ill.
  • Elementary students will remain within a single cohort in their homeroom throughout the day.
  • Secondary students will be in classes of no more than 15 students.
  • Large assemblies should not take place in person, pending further information from Ottawa Public Health.
  • After school extracurricular activities will not resume until it is deemed safe to do so.
  • Access to each school will be restricted to staff and students only.
  • Libraries will be closed at the start of the year.
  • Protocols will be in place for washroom access, including scheduled breaks for elementary students, and sign-out sheets for secondary students.
  • Lockers and cubbies will not be in use. Students will keep their belongings with them in class.
  • Water fountains will only be used for refilling personal water bottles. Water bottles cannot be shared.
  • Elevators should be restricted to only those who require them for mobility reasons and limited to one passenger at a time.

Class sizes

The OCDSB says class sizes are capped as follows:

  • Kindergarten: OCDSB average class size is 25; the maximum class size is 29 students per class, wherever possible the class may be divided into 2 groups;
  • Grades 1, 2, 3: OCDSB average class size is 19; 90% of classes have 20 or fewer students; 10% of classes have up to 23 students;
  • Grades 4, 5, 6: OCDSB average class size is 24.5; there is no maximum class size, but most are below 30;
  • Grades 7, 8: OCDSB average class size is 24.5; there is no maximum class size, but most are below 30.
  • Grades 9-12: Students will be in classes of approximately 15.


The OCSB's plan outlines enhanced cleaning practices, new health and safety rules, hand and face hygiene, cohorting, and physical distancing.

Enhanced Cleaning

  • This will include regular touchpoint cleaning of surfaces such as door handles, railings, light switches, buttons, dispensers, accessibility buttons, faucets, and commonly touched items in the school.
  • All air exchange systems have been optimized to bring fresh air into the school based on each school's HVAC design. All units have been inspected and repaired as needed prior to the start of the school year.
  • Soft surfaces or items that cannot easily be cleaned will be temporarily removed from classes.
  • Additional caretakers have been hired with the aid of $1.1 million from the Ministry of Education.

Health and Safety

  • All students and staff must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms or other signs of illness before coming to school. Anyone who is ill must stay home.
  • Students who begin to show signs of illness at school will be isolated and parents will be called.
  • Fire drills will continue, with physical distancing.
  • Washroom access will be recorded, including the number of students in a washroom at a time, to aid in contact tracing.
  • Windows will be opened wherever and whenever possible.

Hand and Face Hygiene

  • Masks are mandatory for students in grades 4-12 and strongly encouraged for students in kindergarten to grade 3.
  • All staff will be wearing medical grade masks while at school. Some staff will have optional face shields.
  • Students will be required to sanitize their hands upon entering the school.
  • Every classroom will be equipped with hand sanitizer and/or soap and water.
  • Students may fill up their personal hand sanitizer bottles using school-supplied sanitizer as needed.
  • A hand-washing schedule will be built into regular routines across all grades.
  • Water fountains will be off limits for drinking but may be used to refill personal water bottles.


  • Students will normally remain in one class cohort throughout the day and, where needed, teachers will rotate into the classroom instead of students changing classes.
  • If a class or student is required to change rooms during the day for programming reasons, the maximum cohort mixing during the day has been set to 50 for elementary and 100 for secondary students.

Physical Distancing

  • Directional arrows, signs and posters, markings at entrances and near the teacher will be spread throughout the school to encourage physical distancing.
  • Teachers will stay 2 metres away from others, while students will stay 2 metres away from others in common areas of the school, and, where space is limited, 1 metre away from others in the classroom.

Other measures

  • Lockers and cubbies will not be used.
  • Large in-person gatherings, field trips, assemblies, intramurals, and extracurricular sports are postponed. Virtual extracurricular activities can continue.
  • A portable Plexiglas screen will be made available as needed within each classroom to allow for one to one support
  • Access to schools will be limited to students and staff only. Visitors, parents, and volunteers will not be permitted under most circumstances. If a parent must enter the school to pick up their child, they will be required to wear a mask at all times.
  • Common reception areas such as the main office and learning commons have been retrofitted with Plexiglas screens.

Class sizes

The OCSB says these are the average class sizes across its board.

  • Kindergarten - the average class size is 26 students.
  • Grade 1-3 - 90% of all classes are 20 or fewer students; 10% are 21-23 students.
  • Grade 4-8 - the average class size of 24.5.
  • Grade 9-12 classes will be reduced to 12-17 students.


Ottawa's French catholic school board (CECCE) has given families some ideas of what to do before the start of the school year, to prepare children for a return to class.

  • Become familiar with the self- testing for symptoms of COVID-19 that should be done on a daily basis.
  • Provide a mask for your child (optional for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students and mandatory for Grades 4 to 12).
  • Have received confirmation from the Ottawa School Bus Consortium (CTSO), if your child is to be transported by school bus.
  • Provide a reusable water bottle (which can be carried in the lunch box) and identified with the child's name.
  • Prepare a cold meal, the compost and garbage will be taken home.
  • Identify your child's personal belongings with their name.
  • Communicate changes in personal information and emergency contacts to the secretariat as needed.

Of note: backpacks will not be permitted until further notice, the board says.

Mandatory Self-testing

  • Parents or guardians will be required to screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms. Any student exhibiting symptoms is required to stay home.
  • The CECCE recommends families follow up with Ottawa Public Health for possible COVID-19 testing.

Hand Washing

  • The CECCE will provide hand sanitizer in all schools for the use of staff and students.
  • Parents or guardians are encouraged to provide a small individual gel container for their child which will be refilled at school as needed.
  • With the exception of staff who work directly with students where physical distancing is not possible, wearing gloves is not mandatory. If a student wants to wear gloves, they must provide their own gloves and dispose of them safely.

Students should wash their hands at the following times:

  • when they arrive at school;
  • when coming back from outside;
  • after using the washroom;
  • before and after snacks;
  • before and after lunch;
  • before leaving at the end of classes; and
  • according to the schedule established in each school.

Mask Use

  • Masks are mandatory for all students in grades 4-12 and recommended for students kindergarten to grade 3. Exemptions are available for medical reasons.
  • Masks must be identified with the student's name.
  • It is recommended families provide a pouch or a small bag for the child to store their mask when it is not in use (i.e. while eating or while outside and physically distancing).

Physical Distancing

  • Signage will be in place inside and outside each school to direct students on movement to ensure as much physical distancing as possible.
  • Schools will be restricted to staff and students only, except in circumstances in which they have an appointment. Anyone entering the school must self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms and is not permitted to enter should they have any.
  • Students will keep to the right side of corridors and practice physical distancing between each other.
  • Each student will have an assigned desk in their classroom.


  • Elementary school students will be grouped into a cohort and only these same cohorts will be in contact all day long, including during the specialist periods (music, physical education, etc.), recess and the lunch period. Recess, lunch, and washroom breaks will be staggered to prevent crowding.
  • Whenever possible, only one full teacher is assigned per class.
  • Specialized teachers (music, physical education, etc.) can go to the classroom while ensuring that direct and indirect contacts are limited to 50 students from the same cohort.

Other Measures

  • Water fountains are off limits except for refilling personal water bottles.
  • Students will eat snacks and lunch in their classrooms, at their assigned desks. Sharing of food is prohibited.
  • School gatherings and field trips are cancelled until further notice.
  • As soon as a student exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 during the school day, the staff member must notify the office. The parent or guardian will be called and asked to pick the child up from school.
  • Students who live at the same address as the symptomatic child must leave the school and place themselves in isolation just like the symptomatic child, and follow the instructions of the Ottawa Public Health.


Hand Hygiene

Hand sanitizer will be available in all schools, where soap and water are not available.

Students will be required to wash their hands at the following times:

  • when arriving at school in the morning;
  • before entering the classroom, resource center, computer lab and gymnasium;
  • when returning from recess or lunch time;
  • before and after eating (snack, lunch, etc.);
  • before and after going to the bathroom;
  • after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing;
  • before and after using shared equipment or surfaces;
  • when leaving school at the end of the day.

Mask Use

  • Masks are recommended for students in kindergarten to Grade 3.
  • Masks are mandatory for students in grades 4-12.
  • Medical exemptions can be obtained.
  • Students must wear masks inside the classroom and school hallways. They can remove them outdoors while maintaining distancing.
  • Students can bring their own masks. Non-medical masks will be available.


  • Enhanced cleaning measures will be in place in all schools.
  • High-touch surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected at least twice a day and more frequently as needed.
  • Ventilation systems are checked according to an established inspection schedule.
  • The use of portable fans and portable radiators or heaters will be prohibited.
  • Windows should be opened whenever possible to facilitate ventilation.

Other measures

  • There will be six fire drills and two lockdown drills, as mandated by law. Physical distancing and other pandemic measures will continue to be practiced.
  • Schools will be limited to students and staff only. Parents or guardians who are required to attend the school must follow all COVID-19 guidelines.
  • Most communication with families will be by telephone or video chat.