Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools have decided to not have students sitting in classes next week over concerns about the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.

The two school districts announced their plans Thursday night. Buford City Schools said it will close for the week of March 16 while Gwinnett County Public Schools said it will utilize digital learning days during that week.

Gwinnett County Public Schools already had a student and teacher holiday scheduled for Friday, but Buford City Schools will remain in session on that day as the municipal school district prepares for the week-long closure.

“Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this unprecedented situation for our district and community,” Buford City Schools said in a Facebook announcement. “As we have continued to communicate, this is ever-changing and we may need to extend this closure accordingly.”

The move effectively shuts down the school systems. In addition to keeping students out of the classroom, the move also impacts all extracurricular activities and events.

“All GCPS events and activities are canceled effective 6 a.m. Friday, March 13, until further notice,” school system spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. “This includes all school events, extracurricular activities, school-related trips, community school events, and facility rentals.

“During next week’s Digital Learning Days, all teachers who are leading lessons for students will work from home. Plans for all other categories of employees will be communicated on Friday, March 13.”

Meanwhile, Buford City Schools’ athletic games and practices will be canceled starting Saturday. They will continue to be canceled until classes resume, the district said.

The announcement from Gwinnett schools came a few hours after Gov. Brian Kemp said during a press conference on Thursday afternoon that decisions to close local school districts, daycares and higher education institutions up to their leaders.

Whether the closures will only affect next week in Gwinnett County Pubic Schools remains to be seen. District officials expect to make an announcement on March 19 about its plans for the week of March 23-27.

Buford did not say when it would make a decision about possibly extending its closures.

“The district will monitor closely and assess the situation to determine if this closure should be extended past this week,” Buford City Schools officials said on Facebook. “When a date to re-open is determined we will let you know immediately. This decision comes as a result of thoughtful discussions regarding what is best for our students, staff, and families.”

During a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state is leaving decisions to close local school systems and government departments up to their leaders.

“Given the rise of coronavirus cases along with the push for more school closures, I’m going to issue a call to action for community leaders, educational leaders and childcare providers across our state,” Kemp said. “If you feel that it is prudent, you should consider closing daycares, schools or school districts as early as (Friday) though the next two weeks.”

Kemp added that his call to action is not a mandate and that state officials believe local decision making is the best course of action. No matter what their decision is, local institutions have Kemp’s support.

Kemp indicated he thinks closing schools could put Georgia in a better position to prevent widespread cases of COVID-19. Kemp said the decision was not made unilaterally was sparked by parent and staff concerns relayed by local school districts.

“I think we’re staying ahead of the curve,” Kemp said. “If you look at Ohio they closed all their schools ... they had their first case five days before (GA). our actions today — freeing our school systems up to do what they need to do — keeps us ahead of that curve.”

As of Thursday, there were two presumed positive cases of COVID-19 in Gwinnett County.

Barrow County Schools have also closed for the next two weeks to address the COVID-19 situation.

“During this closing, there will be no extracurricular activities, sports, school events, or field trips,” Barrow County schools officials said in a statement. “As additional information and guidance is provided, updates will be shared. Over this period, schools and buses will continue to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using COVID-19 approved cleaners. We ask our families to wash backpacks, coats, and jackets as soon as possible as well.

“In the near future, we will be sending out information regarding potential resources for learning from home.”

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