KITCHENER -- Parents and teachers in Waterloo Region are now scrambling to make last-minute arrangements for distance learning.

The province announced Thursday that students won't return to the classroom until at least Jan. 25.

Melissa Sanderson-Alsbergas' son, Edward, is in kindergarten and has enjoyed online learning so far. However, she's enrolled in an online class that starts Monday.

"It's going to be very chaotic," she said.

While Sanderson-Alsbergas is disappointed by the decision to keep kids home longer, she said she understands the decision.

"I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and try our best," she said.

Teacher Michelle Evans said she's grateful they now know what's happening for the next two weeks, but said she feels for parents with more than one child.

"They're trying to support multiple children keeping up with technology and do they have enough bandwidth to watch videos and things like that," Evans said. "It's certainly not easy for any of us."

Teachers' unions said the decision should have been made weeks ago and they hope the province will now work to make kids safer so they can return to school on Jan. 25.

"Everyone is finding out at the same time via the media," said Greg Weiler, Waterloo Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president.

"We have two weeks now where the government has a grand opportunity to spend some time speaking with the teachers," Patrick Etmanski, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association Waterloo Unit, said.

Sanderson-Alsbergas said she wants her son to go back to class, but is also concerned about high COVID-19 case counts.

"It's not going to be easy, so I have mixed emotions," she said.

Prior to the province's announcement, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer said all students in that region would continue with virtual learning until at least Jan. 24.

“The importance of in-class education on the overall health, well-being and development of our children remains the foundation of our education system,” said Dr. Mercer in a news release.

“However, with a significant rise in cases across our region and evidence of transmission among school-aged children, we must make this difficult decision to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our region safe.”

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, medical officer of health for the Region of Waterloo, said she supported the move by the province.

"In-class education is fundamentally important for our children, but this delay is necessary given the current level of community spread of COVID-19 across Ontario and Waterloo Region," a statement from Dr. Wang said in part.