EDMONTON -- Edmonton public and Catholic schools are shifting junior high and high school students online for the next two weeks.

Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools made a joint request to the province and announced the move Tuesday afternoon.

“I understand this is difficult news to many students, parents and teachers, as in-classroom learning has significant benefits," said Adriana LaGrange, Alberta's education minister. "However, due to operational concerns, this temporary shift is necessary to ensure learning can continue.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are COVID-19 outbreaks at 567 schools across Alberta.

On April 14, Edmonton Public Schools had 49 cases, and 1,200 students and 155 staff in quarantine. On Tuesday, those numbers spiked to 130 cases, and 3,275 students and 403 staff self-isolating.

Teacher shortages were a factor in the decision for both school districts.

“Right now they’re in the 70s, 70 jobs unfilled,” said Darrel Robertson, superintendent for Edmonton Public Schools. “We continue to get more COVID cases each and every day so that could easily be 90 to 100 on Thursday, so we wanted to pivot as soon as possible.”

In a statement, Edmonton Catholic Schools said: "Over the last week, our Division has seen a significant number of students and staff in isolation in those grades, a shortage of teaching staff available to deliver in-person learning, and a substantial rise in COVID-19 cases in the community."

Online learning begins on Thursday for two weeks.

Calgary and Fort McMurray school districts already shifted junior high and high school students to online learning last week.

“If we want to lower cases of COVID and variants inside of our schools it really does come down to ensuring that as many people as possible can get the vaccine with the hopes that we can really start to get this third wave under control,” said EPSB Chair Trisha Estabrooks.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association believes that teachers should be vaccinated to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms.

“Teachers are teaching in schools with kids in close spaces in large classrooms and have been asking for this,” said ATA President Jason Schilling. “I’m extremely disappointed in this government that they fail to recognize that teachers and other school staff are front line workers in this pandemic.”

Schilling said that there may also need to be a discussion on whether to move Kindergarten to Grade 6 students to online learning.

“We need to make sure we are keeping our eye on the safety of our staff and students,” said Schilling.

“To transition all elementary students K to (Grade) 6 online we would need to work very closely with Alberta Health, with the ministry, those decisions are very significant,” said Robertson.