The winter break is technically over for students, but they won't be returning to the classroom just yet.

About 70,000 Simcoe County students shift to a temporary virtual learning mode during an extended winter break, which the province said would help suppress the spread of COVID-19 following the holidays.

The Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) noted that elementary students, including Grade 7 and 8 students at Elmvale District High School and Stayner Collegiate Institute, would participate in remote learning Monday and are expected to return to the classroom on Jan. 11.

Secondary students were also expected to begin online learning Monday and won't return to in-person learning until Jan. 25.

But the province's decision to shift to online learning for thousands of students left school boards and teachers scrambling to make it work.

The SCDSB said in an email to CTV News, "Today is the first day of remote learning for all SCDSB students who had previously been attending school in person. SCDSB educators have established virtual learning platforms and have been reaching out to their students and their families to provide direction and instruction for accessing learning materials and technology, should they require it."

The Catholic board agreed the switch from in-person to virtual is challenging, especially given its timing. "The decision to transition to remote learning for all students was made after we left for the Christmas break."

Even so, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board said the first day went well. "Planning for a change that impacts more than 20,000 students and staff is difficult to do when everyone is on Christmas holidays, and so we are pleased with how smoothly it went today. As with any transition, the. Still, thesues that we are continuing to work through, but the important piece is that educators are engaging with their students and the learning is continuing."

Ontario entered a province-wide lockdown that remains in place until at least Jan. 23, sparking concerns among some parents about schools reopening as COVID-19 cases rise.

But in a letter to parents over the weekend, Education Minister Stephen Lecce urged parents that schools aren't the issue. "Leading medical experts have been clear that schools are not a source of rising community transmission." He added that eight out of 10 schools across Ontario had no COVID-19 cases, and school boards report "99.64% of students have not reported a case of COVID-19."

Learning must continue, even during a pandemic.

SHARE my open letter to parents, as kids prepare for virtual learning this week. #StrongerTogether

— Stephen Lecce (@Sflecce) January 3, 2021