Students in Ottawa will not return to the classroom on Monday for in-person learning amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the province.
Elementary schools south of Sudbury will remain closed until Jan. 25, which is two weeks later than the original reopening date.
In-person learning will still resume in northern Ontario for elementary students on Jan. 11. Secondary students are still slated to return to class for in-person learning on Jan. 25.
The Ford government made the announcement by press release on Thursday.
"With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe," Premier Doug Ford said in a written statement. "That's why we're extending the remote learning period for students in southern Ontario and the shutdown period for northern Ontario."
Parents told CTV News Ottawa they trusted public health to make the right call, but still have concerns.
Den Brokop, who has two children in school, would like online learning to be more flexible. He says in the spring it was much easier to work school around their different schedules. Now students are tied to their computers for set hours every day.
“It’s the amount of synchronous hours that the kids are to be online and learning it’s challenging,” Brokop said. “It does concern me the amount of time the kids are expected to be online and on screens it really does not supply flexibility for parents or kids”
Nadine Annous, who’s seven-year-old son loves being at school, is worried being cut-off from his friends and isolated at home is not good for him.
“This was expected because the way things were going, we are just hoping, crossing our fingers, because we really want them to go back to school because it’s the only thing that’s like normal for him,” Annous said.
“It’s not easy and especially with my son who was very happy going back to school it was the only time he could really see his friends.”
Premier Ford said he received new data Wednesday night that indicates COVID-19 positivity rates amongst children have been increasing at alarming rates. He blamed the increased positivity rates in children as the result of people getting together over the holidays.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said Thursday that while he's ordering schools to close with "much reluctance" it is a necessary step.
"I know this is a tough one," Williams said of the extended closure. "This is tough for everyone."
"We are trying to get the right balance here where we have a deferral of the reopening for two weeks while we get these other things in place because we want the schools to be open and we want them to stay open," he said.
But Dr. Kwado Kyeremanteng, an Ottawa Hospital Critical Care Physician, said he does not think Ottawa should be grouped in with the GTA.
“I think that there just needs to be more information. The percent positivity is up mostly in Toronto,” Kyeremanteng said. “This needs to be a regionalized approach, COVID does not behave the same in Ottawa as it has in Toronto.”
Two of Ottawa’s major school boards say they are reaching out to the school community to inform them of the changes, adding that in person class will continue for special education programs at both Ottawa’s Catholic school board and the Ottawa Carleton district school board.
And while the return to school date for secondary students in Ontario stays at Jan. 25, many are wondering if that may change as well.