BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/AP) – Gov. John Bel Edwards announced he has signed a proclamation keeping K-12 public schools shuttered through the remainder of the academic year because of the coronavirus in his media briefing Wednesday.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to do this, but it’s really important to public health,” said Edwards. “This is a critical step to protect public safety and not a decision we made lightly.”
The decision will have Louisiana’s 700,000 public school students out of their classrooms for two months of the school year.
Edwards said gathering that many students into packed classrooms isn’t safe because of the virus outbreak, with Louisiana among the hardest-hit states. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, school superintendents and school board leaders urged Edwards to keep schools closed.
“I want to be very clear about something: this is not the end of learning for this academic year. It is just the end of physically going to the school campuses for the remainder of the Spring semester. I fully expect that instruction and learning will continue. I fully expect that our schools are going to continue with the nutrition programs to feed the students that remains critical, and that’s some of the work that we’re engaging in as we speak.”
Though Edwards said acting Louisiana Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux would provide more guidance Wednesday for school leaders, Scioneaux was short on specifics in her appearance with Edwards. She said local school districts would largely be left on their own to determine student readiness for the next grade and methods of distance learning.
Nearly 22,000 people in Louisiana have confirmed infections of the COVID-19 disease, about 9% of whom are hospitalized, according to health department data. The state’s death toll from the virus reached at least 1,103 Wednesday, an increase of 90 deaths from a day earlier. Louisiana has seen encouraging signs in combating the virus, with slowing rates of new infections and new hospitalizations, and fewer patients on ventilators. Edwards credits people remaining physically distanced from others.
For most people, the highly contagious coronavirus causes symptoms such as high fever and a dry cough that resolve in several weeks. But some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can suffer severe symptoms that can be fatal.
Under the latest health department figures, 124 nursing homes in Louisiana have reported people infected with COVID-19, and 275 nursing home residents have died.
Local school districts have been using distance learning — and at least half are using some form of online teaching — to keep lessons going since schools closed in mid-March, according to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Individual districts have been left to decide how to teach classes. That’s raised questions about how schools should determine which students pass, fail, advance to the next grade and graduate. Standardized testing, school letter grades and other statewide accountability measures have been scrapped for this school year.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.