Physical Distancing in Schools

With a full return to school in September, physical distancing with 2 meters or 6 feet of separation will not be possible. Each school will create cohorts of students and work to minimize interactions between groups as outlined in the Public Schools Branch Guidelines for Return to School.


A cohort is a subgroup of students that will, when possible, remain isolated from other cohorts in the school population. This concept allows individuals to interact with one another in a group setting, but discourages interaction outside of a student’s cohort.  The purpose is to help with contact tracing, if necessary, and mitigate cross-contamination across the entire student body.

These cohorts or groups will be defined by all schools before students return in September.

What does a cohort look like?

Cohorts may look different from school to school as the make-up must consider the physical structure of the school, limitations of the building and staffing. A cohort includes teachers, students, EAs, custodians, etc.

What is a zone?

A zone is defined as where a cohort is located in the school, where individuals and the group may enter and exit the building and where travel is allowed with fewer restrictions. Travel outside of this zone will require enhanced protocols.

What are sample schools?

Return to School Plans have been designed for six sample schools to demonstrate how differences between schools based on school population, physical building and staffing. The example provided below is for a consolidated school made up of kindergarten to grade 9.

Sample A: Consolidated school
Cohort Zones
Primary cohort – kindergarten to grade 3

Access: Enter and exit using primary playground doors
Recess: North of playground area
Bathroom: Primary bathroom

Elementary grades 4 to 6

Access: Enter and exit using elementary playground doors
Recess: South playground (including soccer field)
Bathroom: Main lobby

Junior high grades 7 to 9

Access: Enter and exit using main doors
Recess: Parking lot, multi-purpose room and gym
Bathroom: Junior high bathroom

No cohorts will be mixed for instruction. Only homerooms within the cohorts will be mixed, as follows:

  • Primary - recess, team time,
  • Elementary - recess, team time, Language Arts, PE, Music
  • Intermediate - recess, Band/Art, Industrial Arts, Language Arts, Core French, PE/Health


Transitions throughout the school day will be planned to ensure that multiple classes are not occupying the same space, e.g. class A will enter the gym through one entrance and class B will leave the gym through a different entrance. When there are not multiple entrances, schools will determine how to stagger student movement.

When cohorts must mix during transitions (e.g. high school class change), it is strongly recommended all students and staff wear masks. 


  • The arrival of regular school staff will be staggered, with physical distancing, as necessary.
  • Common and shared areas will be accessed only as needed (e.g. staff room microwave, photocopier, literacy lab, office, etc.) but when multiple staff are in a common shared area, they will stagger entry, exit and use of the space.
  • When staff is not able to stagger movement within a building or when entering or exiting, it is strongly recommended they wear non-medical masks.


  • All visitors will be required to enter a school via the main entrance and wait in a “visitor zone.”
  • The number of visitors permitted in this zone at one time will depend on its size. If the number of visitors exceeds the capacity, visitors must remain outside until space allows for entry.
  • Minimal visitors will be permitted beyond the “visitor zone”; the nature of each visit will be assessed to determine need.
  • Parents will not be permitted beyond the visitor zone. A staff person will manage all parent requests including drop-off of late students, early pick-ups, forgotten lunches or other items, etc.  Parents are asked to minimize or eliminate the need to visit the school during the day.
  • Unless physically impossible, deliveries will be left in the visitor zone for the custodian (or relevant personnel) to receive and distribute.
  • All visitors must sign-in and acknowledge a screening declaration.

Other physical distancing measures

Other overarching physical distancing considerations for school include the following:

  • All arrivals and departures will be staggered (morning, recess, dismissal, etc.). Each school will develop a plan to ensure appropriate staggering.
  • Signage will be posted throughout the school to ensure all occupants understand the need to practice physical distancing.
  • Spaces within a school will be configured to promote increased physical distancing and to reduce transmission caused from droplets containing virus (e.g. from talking, coughing, sneezing). Example: direction and protocols for transition spaces such as hallways and entrances, classroom configuration- desks, use of playgrounds, cafeterias, lockers, etc. will be provided.
  • The main entrance at each school will be supervised to meet visitors and direct visits appropriately.
  • For schools hosting early childhood programs during school hours, contact between early childhood staff and children and school staff and students will not be permitted.
  • All after-school programs and groups using a school facility require their own operational plan.
Published date: 
August 6, 2020
Education and Lifelong Learning

General Inquiries

Department of Education and Lifelong Learning
Holman Centre
Suite 101, 250 Water Street
Summerside, PE C1N 1B6

Phone: 902-438-4130
Fax: 902-438-4062