Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday extended closures of public elementary and secondary schools for in-person instruction through April 24, and the state has also relaxed testing and accountability measures for Georgia students.

Barring another extension of school closures due to the impacts of coronavirus, students may return to school on Monday, April 27. The governor previously had ordered schools to stay closed through March 30.

“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 news release. “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.”

The University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia will remain closed for in-person instruction through the rest of the semester since students have already transitioned to all online learning, Kemp said in the news release.

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.

The action Thursday came shortly before Kemp’s school closure order.

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 was also scheduled to host a televised town hall at 8 p.m. Thursday to discuss the state’s response to coronavirus.

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.

— MDJ reporter Thomas Hartwell contributed to this report

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