VANCOUVER -- With B.C. students returning to in-class learning full time this fall, the province's education minister says many high schools might have to adjust how they make up their schedules.

Minister of Education Rob Fleming announced Wednesday that most students will return to schools in September under a "learning group" system. The idea behind those groups is that interactions between students and staff will be reduced to specific cohorts.

For high school students, the maximum size of a cohort is 120, which means class structures will likely need to change. 

"We're going to have to look at high school scheduling. There's no doubt about it," Fleming said Wednesday.

"The concept of 120 is that that's roughly about four classes, including teachers and support staff."

But some B.C. high schools operate on a year-long system, where students are enrolled in eight classes at once that last the entire school year. Other schools have semester systems, which have students in fewer classes at once, but the schedule switches part way through the school year. 

Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, said Tuesday that schools will have to get creative in order to make the new learning group system work. 

"The idea of the learning groups is very different and we kind of have to shake out of heads how we're used to seeing schools organized because if we keep trying to stick a square peg into a round hole it's not going to fit," she said. 

"So in order for folks to be able to conceptualize this we really have to erase everything from the chalkboard and start again and think about different ways of being in the school."

For some schools, that may mean switching to an entirely different system. 

"If a school is used to working on a linear model … they may have to talk about going to a semester system," Higginson said. 

"I've seen some districts already talking about going to a quarter semester system, where students are taking just two courses at once for a shorter period of time."

Earlier this month – before the province made their announcement about the fall – the Abbotsford School District decided to change from a two-semester system to a quarterly one. 

As a result, students will still get the same number of instructional hours for each course, but would only take two classes at a time. 

The school district said in a statement the change will "help give high schools and students more flexibility to transition between stages during the school year if the COVID-19 pandemic evolves."

The learning group system also means how school spaces are used might need to change, Higginson said. 

"That might include things like band, or choral music or drama, where you could use a bigger space. And it might mean we have to use the spaces in our schools differently than we're used to," she said.

"If a student has an elective that's outside of their learning group, they can then take that elective as long as social distancing can be observed in that elective."

Before classes resume, Higginson said each school will need to figure out a system that works best for their students. 

"It's going to take a little while for districts to think about the ways that they can implement this in the best way that meets the needs of their communities," she said. 

"But it's also going to require all of us who interact with the school system to kind of take a step back and not try to think about the way schools were organized traditionally and allow people to have space to think outside the box."

B.C.'s education ministry said Wednesday that families will hear from schools throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines and with their learning groups and schedules. Final details will be posted online on Aug. 26.