JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Governor Tate Reeves announced on Facebook Live that he will close all public schools in Mississippi until April 17, 2020. The schools are being closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Reeves will sign an executive order on March 19, 2020.

“I made this decision because I believe it’s in the best interest of all of our fellow Mississippians,” he said.

Reeves said he will relax end of year testing requirements and accountability measures. School districts will be paid their formula money in a timely manner, and teachers will get paid their annual salary on time.

He also instructed each school district to continue operating with essential faculty and staff, whether working from home or in the workplace, to ensure essential functions are met and distance learning and other protocols are developed so as not to interrupt students’ education.

“This is not a time for us to panic. This is a time for us to recognize that we are in unprecedented, uncharted waters,” said Reeves. “But we will get through it. We will get through it because we are Mississippians. We will get through it because we are resilient. We will get through it because we are all dedicated and committed to get through it.”

The Mississippi State Board of Education affirmed Reeves’ order to close through April 17. As a result, the SBE voted to allow school districts to forego the requirement of a 180-day school year per state law for school closure due to COVID-19.

They also voted to suspend all federal and state assessments for the 2019-20 school year and to submit a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for exemption of those federal requirements.

As a result of the suspension of federal and state assessments, districts will retain the accountability grade for the 2020-21 school year that they received in the 2019-20 school year.

Dr. Jason Dean, SBE chairman, stated that “school buildings are closed to the general public but learning is not closed.” He encouraged local school districts to continue learning opportunities for students during this time.

The Mississippi Department of Education issued guidance to school districts who want to implement distance learning. MDE has partnered with Mississippi Public Broadcasting to provide online learning opportunities for students. However, not all districts have the technology to fully and equitably conduct online learning, so the MDE will be releasing additional guidance for school districts in the coming days.

Some school districts have offered take-home packets of work for students and parents.

“I want to commend our superintendents, principals and teachers on efforts to provide instruction to students even while schools are closed,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “I also want to recognize all district support staff who have stepped in to assist the students of their districts under these challenging circumstances.”

MDE will submit a waiver to ED regarding suspension of assessments and accountability for the 2019-20 school year. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is providing needed national leadership by working with ED on state waivers.

“I want to thank CCSSO for its leadership in working with the U.S. Department of Education on a potential waiver for states. CCSSO is leading in unprecedented times,” Wright said.

The MDE will send guidance to districts on how to submit information on missed days.

Lawmakers passed legislation to authorize districts to pay all certified and non-certified staff during school closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Districts will continue to receive their monthly MAEP allocations.

The SBE’s decisions will have implications for various MDE policies, and the agency will be evaluating those and making recommendations to the SBE at a special-called virtual meeting set for Thursday, March 26 at 10 a.m.