LONDON, ONT. -- “The first day is always a little unsettled,” says Peter Cassidy, principal at John Paul II Catholic Secondary School.

On Monday morning, about 80 Grade 9 students in Cohort A stepped foot into a high school classroom for the first time.

“I’m very excited to be back, it’s a bit weird but fun,” says student Vanessa Hamilton.

Students are assigned to one of two cohorts.

Cohort A, which is made up of about 80 Grade 9 students, is at the high school on Monday and Tuesday and Cohort B is scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The cohorts will alternate Wednesdays.

Cassidy says that approximately 300 students are in each cohort when all grades are attending the high school.

Smaller groups of students give school staff an opportunity to see how students manage, ahead of larger groups. "Improvements will happen ‘as we go,” says Cassidy.

“Lunch is a common time, we’ve staggered breaks and we’ve staggered dismissals,” Cassidy says.

Students will have to wear masks when on school grounds.

A classroom will have no more than 17 students.

Cassidy hopes that reinforcing messages about safe distance measures will follow students as they enter back into the community.

“Wearing masks all the time and keeping a distance is certainty very hard since you haven’t seen people for a very long time, but we’ll get used to it after awhile,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton says that there are one-way-signs and lines posted on walls and floors and that hand sanitizer bottles ‘are everywhere you go.’

If a student experiences one symptom of COVID-19 that can’t be attributed to something else, such as diagnosed allergies, that student will be self-contained and sent home.

Cassidy says the school has procedures in place that are guided by Middlesex-London Health Unit.

There is an isolation room in the school’s main office.

Cassidy says that students with a COVID-19 symptom can safely isolate there, in the meantime the school contacts their guardians to pick them up and take them home.

The school will keep repeating the same messages about distancing to students, in the same way that schools have always reminded students of school protocols, Cassidy says.

“We have to give reminders about being in uniform, we have to provide a number of reminders about the aspect of school life…but making that understanding clear that this is a health issue.”

The school is using the PA system to remind students exactly what two metres is and the main office is also providing students with masks if they did not bring one with them.

Across area Catholic high schools, approximately 800 students out of 2,700 opted for online learning.

At John Paul II Secondary School, 135 students chose online learning out of approximately 800 students.