REGINA — Students across the country will face different learning environments following Easter break as communities that are hot spots for COVID-19 variants make tough decisions about whether to keep kids home.
Remote learning is being extended by two weeks in Regina at the direction of the city's health officials, who are concerned about a surge in variant cases in the Saskatchewan capital.
Students with Regina Public Schools, Regina Catholic School Division and Prairie Valley School Division will not return to class until April 26.
"This continuation of temporary remote learning is the most prudent and proactive step we can make to minimize the very real COVID-19 health risk to our students, staff, their families and to our Regina communities," Greg Enion, director of education for Regina Public Schools, said in a release Thursday.
Online learning began there last month as health officials warned that COVID-19 variants were gaining a foothold in the city.
The province did not make the move mandatory. Minister of Health Paul Merriman said "what's always going to be best is keeping the children in the classroom," but added he supports the decision by the local school boards.
Saskatchewan reported 199 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday — 115 of them in Regina.
Schools in three Quebec cities were also closed Thursday for at least 10 days. Children in Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau are staying home in an effort to curb rising infections that health officials have called critical.
There were 1,271 new cases of COVID-19 in Quebec on Thursday — the highest daily number since January.
However, students in Ontario are to continue in-person studies, even as a provincewide shutdown was announced to deal with faster-spreading and more deadly variants of concern.
Premier Doug Ford said the shutdown, taking effect Saturday and lasting four weeks, is needed to combat what he called an alarming surge in infections straining hospital resources.
The government, however, said schools will remain open because they are crucial to students' mental health.
"We're doing everything we can to keep our kids in class," Ford said. "This is the top priority."
Before the announcement, speculation about closures had prompted some school boards to urge students and teachers to take their things home before the long weekend.
Two boards west of Toronto closed numerous schools in recent weeks due to a handful of COVID-19 cases that left them without enough staff to keep classrooms open.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer, said schools should be last to close and first to reopen.
"Our schools have been safe and we want to keep them safe."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2021.
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg. With files from Nicole Thompson in Toronto
The Canadian Press