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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday extended the mandate closing the state's public schools due to the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure was extended more than three weeks through Friday, April 24, meaning students will return Monday, April 27, should conditions become more favorable. The number of confirmed cases and deaths stemming from the virus across the state is increasing, according to statistics released Thursday. The initial executive order put into place March 16 suspended face-to-face school learning through March 31. The extension was made official with Kemp’s signature and announced to the public around noon Thursday.

"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 Thursday 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."

The move affects the more than 5,000 students locally attending Baldwin County Schools. John Milledge Academy Head of School Jessica Jones notified The Union-Recorder that her school will follow suit with the extended closure shortly after the governor’s announcement. Both the public schools and JMA will go on spring break as scheduled next week, but online/distance learning will continue once the break is over. As of press time Thursday, GMC Prep, an independent school, had not announced its plans but had previously announced that it will remain closed through March 31. The school had spring break already schedule through Friday, April 3.

Kemp's order closes schools to students but leaves exceptions for meal preparation and distribution like what has been taking place in Baldwin County since last Tuesday. The school district’s free meal program for kids will go on spring break next week as well, but some community partners have picked up the ball to keep feeding kids and also give school nutrition workers their break. 

Another exception to the extended school closure also allows school personnel into buildings to further distance learning efforts while students are away. Furthermore, the order empowers local school superintendents to make any other exceptions they deem necessary for continued learning during this unprecedented and unexpected break.

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