Louisiana public schools will remain closed for the rest of the month, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced at a Thursday press conference shortly after the state department of education told school districts that high school seniors could finish school remotely.

“School closures will continue through April the 30th,” he said. “I can tell you the Department of Education is in the process of determining what will happen after April 30.”

“They’re going to come out with an announcement soon and I really don’t want to get in front of them,” Edwards said. “I don’t believe you are going to see folks retained unnecessarily.”

The announcement makes official what has been expected for days, since Edwards announced that he would extend his statewide “stay at home order” until the end of this month. Initially set to expire mid-month, the new order will extend through the end of April, in line with President Donald Trump’s recommendations. Edwards said he will sign that order later today.

“This remains an extremely serious public health emergency,” Edwards said.

The extension takes the statewide closure within weeks of the end of the 2019-20 school year calendar for many schools across the state. It’s not yet clear if the state Department of Education is considering recommending keeping schools closed through the end of the academic year.

Several states have closed schools through the remainder of the school year and others have not announced reopening dates. Many states have eased graduation requirements. In Kansas, for example, most seniors have already met the state requirements for diplomas and districts have scaled back individual requirements.

On March 13, Edwards announced schools would close for one month in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. Most schools moved classes online or began sending home weekly schoolwork packets. Local charter schools organized meal pick-up sites to continue feeding students and the district purchased wireless hotspots and laptops to help students who needed internet access.

Nationwide, there are 226,000 confirmed cases of the novel virus and 5,300 people have died, according to the Washington Post

Numbers continue to rise in Louisiana, too. On Thursday, Edwards confirmed a one-day increase of 2,726 cases in the state, bringing the total number of diagnosed cases to 9,150. Across the state, 310 people have died. Roughly one-third of those cases, and deaths, are in New Orleans.

“While extremely upsetting, this increase in COVID-19 cases appears to be less a sign of new exponential growth and more a sign of a logjam from commercial labs,” Edwards said in a release.

“I have said time and again – COVID-19 is a statewide problem and testing is a vital step towards understanding the scale of this problem. We believe COVID-19 is spreading in every parish in Louisiana.”

The Louisiana Department of Education told school district leaders earlier Thursday that they would have the final say over whether high school seniors graduate and outlined numerous options for students. That included completing courses remotely and the option to take them pass/fail. State standardized tests have been waved and students don’t have to meet a minimum amount of instructional time. 

The department said diplomas are still scheduled to arrive to schools on time and that schools are responsible for graduation plans, either virtually or when it’s safe to hold ceremonies.

The department will soon issue further guidance for schools on promotion in elementary and other grades. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...