TORONTO -- Public schools across Ontario will remain closed to students until May 4th in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government has confirmed.

"As I've told you before the situation continues to change day-by-day, and hour-by-hour,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference on Tuesday. "In order to protect our children, I'm prepared to extend these closures even further, if we have to."

Ford, along with Education Minister Stephen Lecce, made the announcement while simultaneously unveiling the province's new distance learning tools for teachers and students to use over the next several weeks.

According to the government, the second phase of the "Learn at Home" program will provide additional tools for at-home learning to ensure that students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 are well-equipped during the significant time away from the classroom.

The government's new program is split into four grade groupings, including Kindergarten to Grade 3, Grades 4 to 6, Grades 7 to 8 and Grades 9 to 12:

Kindergarten-Grade 3

  • Five hours of work per student, per week with a focus on literacy and math

Grades 4-6

  • Five hours of work per student, per week with a focus on literacy, math, science and social studies

Grades 7-8

  • 10 hours of work per student, per week with a focus on math, literacy, science and social studies

Grades 9-12

  • Three hours of work per course, per week for semestered students; 1.5 hours of work per course per week for non-semestered students with focus on achieving credits/completion/graduation.

The government made clear that no student will have their graduation compromised due to COVID-19, saying that the Ministry of Education continues to work with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to make sure that there are no barriers to accessing post secondary education.

In regards to the technical aspects of Learn at Home, Lecce said teachers will be using phones, video conferencing and email to keep in touch with students while delivering portions of the curriculum.

"The second phase of Learn at Home creates some predictability for our parents, our students and our educators," Lecce said. "Our aim is to provide all of them with some sense of stability and hope amid this difficult time."

The province also said that they will be distributing laptops and/or devices from schools as needed, to facilitate the online learning program.

Public schools across the province were supposed to re-open on April 6 but Ford later acknowledged the date was "not realistic."

Tuesday's announcement comes after the Toronto District School Board and the Peel District School board said they would launch online teacher-led classes starting on April 6.

"Our attempt here is not to replicate the school day 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., because that would be quite challenging," TSDB Director of Education John Malloy said.

"Our plan is that students will receive some direction from their teacher by Monday April 6 to start learning."

Private schools, as well as licensed child care centres will remain closed until April 13, in accordance with Ontario's state of emergency declaration, which only allows for closures to be extended for one 14-day period at a time.