Georgia Governor Brian Kemp released orders on Monday that orders the closure of all public K-12 schools and colleges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools must close beginning on Wednesday, March 18 and remain closed until at least March 31, 2020.
A majority of state public schools have already voluntarily closed amid the crisis with only a handful of more rural schools still remaining open. The new orders from Kemp will force all state schools to either suspend school entirely or move to online classes.
A vast majority of public colleges had already moved to online classes last week. The University System of Georgia announced shortly after Kemp’s order that all 26 colleges and universities under its jurisdiction will conduct online instruction for the remainder of the semester with “extremely limited exceptions.”
The announcement from Kemp comes on the same day that state lawmakers voted to ratify his declaration of a public health emergency. This is the first-ever such declaration in the history of the state. With the new powers that the declaration grants, Kemp anticipates being able to more effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The declaration and it’s approval gives Kemp’s administration the ability to suspend state laws, take “direct” control of civil staffers, restrict travel, and limit public gatherings through mid-April.
The vote to ratify Kemp’s emergency declaration passed with only one vote against the new resolution in both chambers of the state legislature. However, the vote was not a swift one causing the emergency session to last hours longer than anticipated as lawmakers hashed out whether or not to put an expiration date on the declaration. A compromise was reached giving Kemp his unprecedented powers until April 15.
“Unfortunately, the only way to know if we’re overreacting is to not do anything and see where this disease takes us,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton.
“Is it important? Yes. Is it critical? Yes,” Dugan said. “Is it dire? Not if we pass this and get in front of it.”
The General Assembly is currently suspended due to the pandemic. The General Assembly will reconvene when it has been determined that safe for them to do so. The suspension of the state legislators was announced on March 13 and is estimated to last until mid-April.