KITCHENER -- Students in Waterloo Region won't get their regular March break, the province announced on Thursday. Instead, the break will be postponed until the week of April 12.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce shared the government's decision during a virtual afternoon press conference.

The break was originally scheduled to happen between March 15 and March 19 for Waterloo Region's public and Catholic school boards.

"Postponing March break, not cancelling it, is an important way that schools can help to limit community transmission," Lecce said. "We recognize that congregation is a key driver of the spread of COVID-19, something we realized over the winter break."

He said that the decision was not easy but was necessary, noting it would also limit disruption for students who just returned to in-person learning.

Lecce said the Ministry of Education consulted with teachers' unions, trustee associations and principal councils before deciding to delay the break.

He added they have one aim: to keep schools open safely.

"We know that they have been closed for some time due to that high spike and retransmission over the winter break," Lecce said. "We'd rather not repeat that."

Lecce said the ministry is responsible for publicly funded schools in Ontario. The ministry has asked private schools to defer the break, too.


In an emailed statement, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board said it was grateful that the break was not cancelled altogether, but recognized the decision may be a hard one to for some of the school community.

"We know that this decision may be a challenging one for our staff, students and families to receive," said Loretta Notten, the board's director of education.

"Everyone looks forward to the break that March affords, and we know everyone has been working exceptionally hard throughout this year.  We realize that the decision is motivated by a concern for what is in the best interests of the health and safety of all of our community."

In a news release, the Waterloo Regional District School Board said it would have to adjust their quadmester because of the shifted break.

"The pandemic has demanded extraordinary sacrifices from us individually and collectively," the board's release said.

"The WRDSB will continue to put the well-being of our students, staff, and families at the centre of our efforts, and support our community through this difficult change. Thank you for your ongoing patience and understanding."

Ontario's four largest education unions issued a joint statement saying that the postponement is not in students' best interest.

"If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during March Break, these should be addressed by the government through other means," the statement said in part.

Local teachers' unions argue staff and students are exhausted, since school hasn't stopped.

"Everyone has been holding their breath for this break and now, to have it delayed for a number of weeks, does nothing for what the government says is important, mental health," said Patrick Etmanski, local president of the OECTA.

Representatives added that online learning has been stressful for everyone. They also said talking about March break diverted attention away from new health measures by the province, like three-layer masks and targeted testing.

"Nobody has seen these added layers of protection, all this talk about asymptomatic testing, it's not in place," said Rob Gascho, president of the Waterloo Region OSSTF.

Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queens University Health Network, said new COVID-19 variants could push spring break back even further.

"We don't know if further information is going to tell us that there may have to be further postponement or something else," he said.

Earlier this week, the Ontario School Board Association (OSBA) called on the province not to cancel March break, noting that students, parents and staff alike need the mental health break.

At the time, the Waterloo Region's medical officer of health said she understood the concerns on both sides. But the medical officer of health in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said that he thought the break should have been cancelled.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said earlier this week that he believed schools are safe and effectively controlling the spread of COVID-19, but that taking a break may result in another spike in cases, especially if people bend the rules like they did over Christmas.

Despite the go-ahead for March-now-April break, people are asked to stay home and not gather outside of their household.