Testing and accountability rules relaxed
Schools in Georgia will remain closed through April 24 following an executive order issued by Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday, March 26.
"I am deeply grateful to State School Superintendent Richard Woods, the Georgia Department of Education, superintendents, and parents for keeping us informed and helping us make the right decision for our students,” Kemp said in a prepared statement.
"Throughout this process, we will continue to seek the advice of public health officials, school leaders, and families to ensure the health and safety of the educational community. As we approach April 24, 2020, we ask for continued patience and flexibility since circumstances may change, but we encourage families to stay strong and follow the guidance of federal, state, and local leaders in the weeks ahead."
"Whereas the Georgia Department of Public Health has determined that COVID-19 is spreaking through communities; and whereas the number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia continues to rise, ... further action is necessary to prtect the health and safety of the population of Georgia, slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce the number of people who will become infected and avoid unnecessary strain on Georgia's health care system," the order states.
Exceptions for meal distribution, distance learning and other necessary functions as determined by the local school superintendent are included in the order.
The closing means all public schools will continue with the closure through April 24. Students are scheduled to return to class on April 27. The order applies to the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia as well.
Georgia school officials also took steps Thursday to scrap final exams and relax a wide range of other accountability rules for the state’s nearly two million public-school students who have been out of class since last week due to the impacts of coronavirus.
A series of waivers approved Thursday will allow the more than 2,200 public and state schools to be exempted from 18 different requirements under state law such as the Milestone test and other student exams, teacher performance evaluations and course curriculum for the current school year.
The waivers also give local school districts more freedom to set formal class sizes that dictate state funding allocations and more leeway on how districts can spend their budgets.
Members of the state Board of Education unanimously approved the waivers at their monthly meeting Thursday, which was conducted over the phone.
School districts across Georgia totaling around 1.7 million students have been closed since last Monday under Kemp’s order. His executive order Thursday extended the original April 1 return date by roughly another three weeks.
Kemp is scheduled to host a televised town hall Thursday night at 8 p.m. to discuss the state’s response to coronavirus.
Speaking Thursday, State Superintendent Richard Woods said school systems have done well adapting to the challenge of keeping students healthy and engaged with virtual learning and remote meal programs.
“These past few weeks have been unique, but a lot of great things have been going on,” Woods said.
The board’s action Thursday came after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last week state school superintendents can seek exemptions from year-end tests, teacher evaluations and other measures that are normally required for states to secure federal education funding.
Kemp also gave the state school board authority to approve the waivers as part of his emergency powers that the General Assembly granted him earlier this month.
As of noon Thursday, 1,525 Georgians had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those patients, 473 — or 31 percent — were hospitalized.
There are still no confirmed cases in Hart County. There are 153 cases from unknown counties.
More than 8,900 Georgians have been tested for coronavirus, 1,646 by the state Department of Public Health and 7,280 by a commercial lab.
The virus has spread to 97 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Fulton County has the most COVID-19 cases with 211. Cases in Dougherty County have soared to 156, a huge number considering the county’s population.
DeKalb County was third as of noon Thursday with 129 positive cases, followed by Cobb County with 115, Bartow County with 86 and Gwinnett County with 75.
Dave Williams of Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report.