Mississippi public schools will remain closed for the next four weeks to protect public health and slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Tate Reeves announced Thursday. 

Reeves signed an executive order instructing the Mississippi Department of Education to keep all public schools closed throughout the state until April 17.

The governor made the announcement via Facebook Live.

 "This is not a decision that I take lightly,” he said. “In fact, in my nearly 17 years of serving the public, it is perhaps the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I made this decision because I believe it's in the best interest of all of our fellow Mississippians. I know our teachers and our administrators will step up during these challenging times.” 

Local school leaders are expected to meet to discuss how to provide services to students over the next few weeks.

The Laurel School District will offer “grab-and-go” meals from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday at Laurel High School and Laurel Middle School. Each bag will contain a lunch and a breakfast for the next day.

Children 18 and under must be in the car, district spokeswoman Lacey Walters Slay said, and they don’t have to be district students. The bags will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, she said. People in the drive-through are asked not to park on the premises.

“We’re trying to limit contact,” she said.

School officials in the city and county will meet early next week to decide how they can still provide educational services to students, to sort out work schedules and other issues, Superintendent Tommy Parker of the Jones County School District said.

A drive-through feeding program will be implemented at the county high schools next week and teachers will come to work to prepare “instructional packets” for students, Parker said. Details will be worked out Monday at a meeting of administrators.

“This is something we’ve never experienced before, but we are looking forward to rising to the challenge,” Slay said. For updates, visit www.laurelschools.org/update.

Reeves 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.

To remove some of the pressure on educators and students, the governor is relaxing end-of-year testing requirements, as well as accountability measures, and giving maximum flexibility to the state Board of Education to waive any rules or regulations in place “that make it harder for students to learn during this difficult time.” Educators will also receive their regular salaries on time to ensure students are able to continue learning.

St. John’s Day School will also be closed until April 17. Laurel Christian School officials didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about their plans.

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