Kemp: Georgia public schools to remain closed through April 24

In a move affecting nearly 2 million children and their parents, Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday ordered the continued closure of schools until at least April 24 in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Kemp’s order gives K-12 schools the power to reopen on April 27, though he could extend the closure if the pandemic crisis worsens. Public colleges, which have already moved to online learning, will remain closed until the end of the school year.

The move is the latest effort to contain the virus, which has spread across Georgia at an accelerating rate, sickening more than 1,500 people and causing the deaths of dozens more.

Kemp, under pressure to take more proactive steps, said this week he was wrestling with the decision over how long to extend a March 16 executive order requiring schools to shut down through the end of the month.

While governors across the nation have shuttered classrooms to curb the disease’s spread, only a handful have canceled brick-and-mortar learning through the end of the school year.

The decision will have a profound impact on students and parents, particularly those who rely on subsidized meal programs and who struggle with Internet access necessary for remote learning. It also means parents will have to continue to juggle home-schooling with their professional duties.

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Children and young adults rarely experience significant symptoms of the disease, which is far more dangerous for older people and those with underlying medical conditions. But public health experts worry that the virus can spread fast among students, teachers and staff in the close confines of a school.

The first child fatality in the United States was a teenager in a Los Angeles suburb who died Tuesday of septic shock after being diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Closer to home, Emma, a 12-year-old girl, was diagnosed with the coronavirus at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta last week and was reported by a relative to be showing "good improvement."

‘They want direction’

Many of Georgia's schools had voluntarily shuttered before Kemp's mid-March school closure order, after he gave them the option to do so in a public "call for action" on March 12.

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Kemp’s new closure order will mean weeks more of lost classroom time and trigger a a new scramble for teachers and parents to develop a way to keep schoolwork on track for their children.

Schools have raced to adapt to the crisis by shifting to the internet or even considering the delivery of paper homework packets.

With all the upheaval, State School Superintendent Richard Woods decided to delay the standardized state testing that would have occurred in coming weeks.

He had authority to make that decision unilaterally, but most of Georgia's Milestones tests are mandated by the federal government, so he is taking up the U.S. Department of Education's invitation to apply for a waiver that would eliminate the requirement for this spring.

The governor, meanwhile, said Wednesday he had a “frank conversation” this week about the pandemic’s fallout on the school system.

“They want direction from a statewide perspective and we’re now in that place. I don’t mind taking that leadership role to do that,”  he told WGAU, an Athens-based radio station.

“And they need that with enough time so they can prepare whatever that decision may be, and I’ve committed to them that I’ll do that.”