Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the closure Monday of all public schools, colleges and universities through the end of the month as the state tries to get a handle on the coronavirus outbreak.
The executive order signed Monday afternoon by Kemp came hours after the General Assembly, meeting in special session, gave broad authority to the governor to handle the outbreak.
Shortly after Kemp made his announcement, the University System of Georgia, the governing body of the state’s 26 public colleges and universities, announced it was switching to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester.
"This measure is critical to reducing local transmission in communities across our state, and I ask Georgians to continue to follow best practices – washing their hands regularly, isolating the elderly and chronically ill, and avoiding large events if possible – in the days and weeks ahead,” Kemp said.
Kemp said his executive order was in accordance with newly issued federal guidelines.
The governor has also asked resident to practice social distancing by cancelling large events and avoiding places where crowds may gather.
He has previously avoiding ordering schools to close, but he did encourage it last week. And many systems, especially in the larger metro counties, followed his advice. Most school systems in Northeast Georgia had previously canceled classes for one or two weeks. Only some schools in rural Georgia have said they would remain open.
Gainesville City and Hall County schools had previously announced they would close this week, but would re-evaluate the situation on Thursday. But late Monday, both Gainesville School Superintendent Jeremy Williams and Hall County School Superintedent Will Schofield said their systems will adapt as necessary to a changing situation.
“I am proud of all of our employees for understanding the fluid situation and stepping up to the plate to respond in a very short period of time,” Williams said. “GCSS was able to take advantage of the districtwide planning day today to finalize long-term plans for learning. Our staff collaborated all of last week and today, and they will continue to collaborate as teams to provide various supports for all of our students. We have a community focused on helping one another and we will adapt as needed.”
Schofield said, "The HCSD will move forward, keeping our people safe, leveraging our abilities to deliver education virtually and caring for this community in any way possible."
The university system said online instruction would be used for the rest of the semester, with extremely limited exceptions. Students will not be allowed to return to campus until they receive permission from their schools.
The system also said residence halls will be closed except for students unable to return home or who cannot find housing elsewhere.
The university system, which includes the University of North Georgia, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, serves about 33,000 students.
Some private colleges – including Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College – announced last week they were converted to online learning through this semester.
The Technical College System of Georgia announced Monday it would close its 22 campuses and move to online learning, too.