Sanitizing, masks and crowd control: How COVID-19 has transformed Calgary schools

Pictured is a sign reminding students and staff to keep their masks on in Henry Wise Wood High School on Friday, August 28, 2020.

Even during a typical year, the first day of school is an occasion filled with anxiety and anticipation for parents and kids alike.

But those jitters will be amplified as students return to the classroom this fall amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This will be the first time any of us has gone back to school in a pandemic,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said during her Thursday news conference.

“It is natural to feel nervous, excited, anxious or any other emotion we may be feeling right now.”

Students at the Calgary Board of Education will begin to step foot back on school grounds Tuesday, while those in the Calgary Catholic School District will start their return the following day.

The CBE is hoping to ease concerns before the first bell rings next week, particularly for parents dropping off younger students.

“Parents typically, when they drop their kids off at school, they stay with them, and often parents enter into the building with their children,” said educational director Darlene Unruh.

“This year, we are asking parents, when possible, to give their hugs and kisses and goodbyes prior to their children coming onto the playground.”

Schools each will have individual first-day-of-school plans, which will be sent to parents, but most will have younger students go to the school field, where teachers will be waiting with signs to identify themselves.

For older students, the CBE hosted a walk-through of Henry Wise Wood school Friday morning, demonstrating some new measures to encourage students to follow social distancing and other public health guidelines.

The school has posted signs on most tables in the library, cafeteria and other common spaces restricting their use to two or three students. Outdoor seats have been added to encourage students to sit there, where virus transmission risk is lower.

In washrooms, every other stall and sink is taped off to increase distancing. Vending machines have been emptied, microwaves removed and many corridors are one-way. To increase air circulation most windows will remain open, weather permitting.

Many classroom spaces did not feature desks that were two metres apart, meaning students in those areas will have to wear masks during classes.

Unruh said most high schoolers will likely already be familiar with measures at their school, as they recently came to the buildings to receive timetables and have their ID photos taken.

The CBE has also released videos to illustrate re-entry measures at



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In addition to the classroom measures that will be part of this year’s school environment, both the CBE and CCSD will stagger student attendance for much of their first week of school, where most students will attend only on certain days based on their last name.

The decision is meant to ease the transition back to the classroom.

“Each principal is creating their own staggered calendar,” CCSD chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas told Postmedia in an interview last week. “Just doing that will give us the opportunity to teach the new health measures that are in place.”

Also Friday, the Alberta government said all schools in the province should have received their shipments of personal protective equipment, including two reusable face masks for every student, teacher and staff member and one face shield for each teacher and staff member.

“Next week as schools begin reopening their doors to their students, they will do so with the PPE they need to ensure the safety of their staff and students,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and newly appointed Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard in a joint statement.

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